Do fish wear lipstick?
January 27, 2008 8:57 AM   Subscribe

What are some things that humans do, that no other animal species does?

Things like "humans use computers" isn't what I'm looking for, because other animals (chimps, some birds) use tools. A certain species of monkey copulates to affirm social status, even the infants - they don't do it just to reproduce. Beavers modify their environment to suit themselves.

I'm thinking of things like blushing through embarrassment, laughing, etc. As far as I'm aware, human beings are the only species that domesticated animals to suit their own purposes, or that plant seeds to raise crops. Or that wear clothes. Or that commit suicide. Those are the sort of things I'm looking for.
posted by Solomon to Science & Nature (90 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Communicate with each other through symbols (i.e., writing)
posted by jayder at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2008


Compose music, or create art.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2008


Chemicals on ants' feet tranquilise and subdue colonies of aphids, keeping them close-by as a ready source of food.

I guess it depends on your definition of "domestication" if this fits or not.
posted by freem at 9:09 AM on January 27, 2008


Empathize.
posted by kjars at 9:09 AM on January 27, 2008


Cook food.

Use complex tools. Craft complex tools.

Wear clothing.

Cut hair. Groom and clean with soaps.

Communicate abstract ideas through speech and writing.

Do math, physics, etc (think all intellectual abilities)

Engage in worship/spirituality.

Codify moral codes.

Engage in mass warfare.

Build non-useful structures (churches, cathedrals, burial mounds, temples, statues)

Engage in art and artistry.

Substitute currency for real things.

Answer questions posted by strangers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:09 AM on January 27, 2008


Go to war...cumulatively.
posted by Student of Man at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2008


Priests vow to remain celibate, physicians vow to do no harm, and letter carriers vow to swiftly complete their appointed rounds despite snow, sleet, and split infinitives. Few people realize that psychologists also take a vow, promising that at some point in their professional lives they will publish a book, a chapter, or at lesat an article that contains this sentence: "The human being is the only animal that..." We are allowed to finish the sentence any way we like, but it has to start with those eight words. Most of us wait until relatively late in our careers to fulfill this solemn obligation because we know that successive generations of psychologists will ignore all the other words that we managed to pack into a lifetime of well-intentioned scolarship and remember us mainly for how we finished The Sentence. We also know that the worse we do, the better we will be remembered.
Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

(Gilbert's own sentence, for what it's worth, is "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future.")
posted by danb at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Or do you mean strictly physiology?

Walk upright and bipedal 100% of the time after a certain age.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2008


kjars, that may not actually be true. At least, there's evidence that some animals are capable of mourning the dead (for instance, elephants have been known to revisit the bones of dead relatives) and of other emotional responses.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2008


I'd have to disagree with empathise. Chimps in particular demonstrate that behaviour, as do elephants - especially if you associate empathy with mourning (as I do).

I'm not sure about cumulative war, either. I am trying to think of, for instance, chimp inter-troupe fights that have required more animals to get into the frey than initially started it. Would that count?

Also, I can (vaguely) recall examples of accords between different social groups of animals uniting against a common enemy. Would this also count as that behaviour?

Mass war is a hazy definition. There are big fights between several primate clans or troupe, but not the drawing in of reinforcements from extended areas, so I think it is the same distinction/extrapolation of tools versus complex tools, perhaps.

You could probably add 'killing for other than food or social advancement' to the list.
posted by Brockles at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


crochet
posted by langedon at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


...kill, for the joy of the kill.
posted by AlliKat75 at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2008


or that plant seeds to raise crops.

Leaf cutter ants raise the fungus the eat. Not quite planting seeds, but it definitely sounds like farming. Also, whale song might be considered music by other whales, obviously that's debatable but worth considering.

We are the only species to leave the planet under our own power/control.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2008


...kill, for the joy of the kill.

Clearly, you have not known the joy of a pet cat.
posted by langedon at 9:26 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Other animals use tools, but I don't believe any others have ever made or used fire, would that count? Seems like a pretty significant "basic" difference ...
posted by zeph at 9:26 AM on January 27, 2008


...kill, for the joy of the kill.

Have you met my cat? I've seen many cats kill animals they have no intention of eating with glee. Maybe it's just human interpretation though.
posted by melissam at 9:27 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sex for pleasure?

I'm pretty sure I remember reading an article (probably linked to on here) about primates killing themselves.
posted by fire&wings at 9:28 AM on January 27, 2008


work out
posted by farishta at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2008


Porn.
posted by jonmc at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Get cured by the placebo effect.
posted by Pants! at 9:34 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, domestication of "plant" species isn't just a human thing - leafcutter ants do fungus agriculture.
posted by Pants! at 9:36 AM on January 27, 2008


crochet
scrapbook, fix up old cars, write books, shave their legs. Examples like these are infinite.

Compose music, or create art.

Elephants paint


Do any other animals feel self conscious?
posted by HotPatatta at 9:39 AM on January 27, 2008


One of the big ones is language.

Other animals have vocal communication, but nothing approaching the complexity of human language. Most animal languages are not expressive enough to communicate more than a few set ideas like "Look out! There is a snake here!". Human language can literally express an infinitely large number of ideas, and no animal language even comes close.

Although there have been controversies involved with all of them, the experiments in teaching apes sign language or computer-aided language have helped to show that language is something that is uniquely human and just doesn't work in other animals. Apes can't, for example, combine the word "big" with the word "tree" to describe a big tree, even though very young human children do it naturally. They can't grasp simple grammatical structure and really only seem to understand nouns. They also tend to repeat the same word over and over again, and will interrupt people instead of following the conventions of a conversation.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:42 AM on January 27, 2008


Recurse.

Other animals communicate, but they don't seem to use recursive structures.

Other animals have been shown to:

a) go to "war" -- organized mass killing of conspecifics is seen in Pan troglodytes (chimps).
b) prostitute themselves for objects of value, or exchange objects of value for sex (monkeys, I forget which kind, in lab conditions)
c) use "money" (intrinsically worthless counters exachnagbel for objects or service sof value, see b. above)
d) use "words", specific utterances standing for specific conditions
e) communicate using arbitrary symbols (lab conditions; sign language chimps)
f) create art (elephants, zoo conditions), music (birds, some of which learn tunes from conspecifics or the environment)
g) empathize, mourn (elephants visit relatives' graves, as do domestic animals)
i) craft tools (chimps, birds) and multi-part tools (ravens, crows)
j) build ornamental structures (bower birds)
k) walk bipedally (birds)
l) crochet (birds' nests)
m) kill for "fun" or show pleasure in killing (chimps, many obligate carnivores)
n) teach juveniles (most mammals)
o) pass on "cultural" practices (many social primates)
p) use pornography (monkeys)
posted by orthogonality at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


smoke.
posted by HeroZero at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2008


I learned yesterday that humans are the only mammals that DON'T eat the placenta
posted by Roger Dodger at 9:58 AM on January 27, 2008


Vote.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2008


Sex for pleasure?

Other animals have vocal communication, but nothing approaching the complexity of human language.

Actually, I had watched a show (Nature of Things, perhaps?), where a couple of researchers proposed that dolphins might actually engage in doing the recreational nasty as well as communicate on a deeper level.

And don't lemurs commit suicide?
posted by bitteroldman at 10:00 AM on January 27, 2008


Tribute to Voytek, the smoking, drinking fighting, soldier bear.

(Ok, maybe he ate the cigarettes.)

bitteroldman writes "And don't lemurs commit suicide?"

No, the Disney filmakers pushed them off the cliff with a broom. Really.
posted by orthogonality at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2008


Bring animals (outside our own species) into the home and fully care for them. No other animal does that, per The Discovery Channel.

Now Koko the Gorilla has cats as pets, but if she lived in the wild, she would not. Only domestic animals have pets, not usual animals living in their normal environment.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2008


Dolphins, however, do group rape.
posted by orthogonality at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2008


Go to war...cumulatively

I don't know what you mean by cumulatively, but ants and chimps both go to war.
posted by Bonzai at 10:04 AM on January 27, 2008


I'm thinking of things like blushing through embarrassment, laughing, etc.

Dogs may laugh.

Or that wear clothes.

Hermit crabs?

Groom and clean with soaps.

I don't think animals use soaps, but birds use formic acid.

Build non-useful structures (churches, cathedrals, burial mounds, temples, statues)
Engage in art and artistry
.

Is interior decorating an art? Male bowerbirds build carefully appointed structures to attract mates.


Noam Chomsky once said something to the effect that thinking you could teach chimpanzees to communicate with sign language as people do is like expecting to find an island of birds waiting for humans to teach them how to fly.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2008


magnoliasouth writes "Only domestic animals have pets, not usual animals living in their normal environment."

Well.... Dogs probably began as service animals. Ants domesticate aphids.

Pets, in America at least, are becoming something like substitute offspring. Animals do occasionally "adopt", even non-conspecifics, in nature. Adoption in general is difficult to understand, as (expect adoption of relatives) it by definition reduces fitness. The best explanation seems to be the adoptee "captures" behaviors in the adopter which were originally designed to promote raising the adopter's biological progeny. That said, it happens in other animal, as well as humans.
posted by orthogonality at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2008


bitteroldman writes "And don't lemurs commit suicide?"

No, the Disney filmakers pushed them off the cliff with a broom. Really.


I believe that would be lemmings, not lemurs. But neither actually commit suicide to my knowledge.
posted by Squee at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2008


If you believe humans are the only species that creates art, you've never watched Attenborough's pieces on bower birds, like this one.

I bet we're the only species that worries about what we do that no other species does, though.
posted by daisyace at 10:13 AM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


(Oops, should have read prior responses more carefully! Only species to fail to preview?)
posted by daisyace at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2008


For a good overview of the long-held "humans are the only ones with language capacity" idea and the cumulative research into what exactly that means or doesn't mean, see The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language. Ortho's got it -- current research says it's recursion that others don't have, not communication.
posted by librarina at 10:23 AM on January 27, 2008


Sex for pleasure?

Nope. Bonobos. And of course masturbation is rampant in the primate world.

Some species of dolphin have even been observed gratifying themselves by swimming over beds of smooth pebbles.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on January 27, 2008


Sex for pleasure?

Bonobos are the usual counterexample.
posted by hattifattener at 10:26 AM on January 27, 2008


(and failing to preview, of course)
posted by hattifattener at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2008


Oh, and the most brutal rapists in the animal world are sea otters, the males of which subdue their mates by bashing their heads with rocks; then there's baboons, who often roughly kidnap each other's 'wives' and children.

What don't animals do? Cook their food, maybe?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Or that wear clothes."

Besides hermit crabs many insects coat themselves in assorted dirt/leaves as a method of camouflage.

Roger Dodger writes "I learned yesterday that humans are the only mammals that DON'T eat the placenta"

I don't want to squick you out but that isn't a universal rule on the human end.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 AM on January 27, 2008


Not knowing everything about the animal behaviour of every species on the planet, my guess would have to be, choose not to procreate but I'm sure someone who knows better will correct me ;)
posted by missmagenta at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2008


Do any other animals feel self conscious?

Oh yeah. If you play a trick on a dog and laugh at them they are visisbly uncomfortable.

All male animals have sex for pleasure ;)
posted by fshgrl at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2008


Bring animals (outside our own species) into the home and fully care for them. No other animal does that, per The Discovery Channel.

It happens every now and then. There was this interesting case a few years ago, for one.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2008


smoke.

While most animals lack the thumbs to smoke by themselves, you don't have to go very far to find anecdotes of animals willfully using various drugs.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2008


Don't bonobos have sex for pleasure?
posted by lleachie at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2008


"Or that wear clothes."

When I lived in Miami, my friend Ralphie's girlfriend had a schnauzer that wagged it's tail happily whenever she put a pink sweater and rhinestone collar on the creature. Thankfully, it was a girl dog, otherwise the whole scenario would plunge us all into a Freudian morass that I do not care to explore.
posted by jonmc at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's hard to precisely define, but you don't see anything but humans making things. Using a rock as a tool, or assembling a nest from twigs, yes. But mining iron ore to assemble spoons?
posted by fogster at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2008


Janet Kagan, in her book Hellspark, suggested that the definition of a sentient species (not exactly what you're asking, but) was defined by 'language, artifacts, and culture'.
posted by lleachie at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2008


I'm gonna have to disagree that only humans codify moral codes. Some primates show pretty complex social behavior with regard to morality.

I think we're probably the only animals that get deeply stressed or anxious in the same way we would if we were in acute danger of bodily harm, knowing darn well that we are in no such danger. Domesticated or captive animals may also experience such stress, but they don't know they aren't in danger.

We are the only species that communicates about: our communication, the future, the past. These are some of the points commonly included in a definition of language. Until recently, also included was the use of names, but I read an article a while ago about how dolphins use something like names. Which will result in us redefining what a name is, to not include what dolphins do, so we can say we're the only animals who use names.

We're the only animals that try to define things (which is included in communicating about language).

If you ammend p) on ortho's list to create porn, humans are probably the only ones that do. Also, if b) is the only evidence for c), you can scratch c). Neither the sex nor the objects that primates trade are arbitrary counters. Some animals may trade, but they trade something of value for something of value. They don't use placeholders for those things. And they don't have a system of placeholders. They also don't use fiat currency. Nor if they used placeholders would that necessarily be currency. Now I'm rambling, sorry.

Also, you could change my stress one slightly to fit killing. Cats may kill just because they have the urge to, and no intention to do anything practical with their prey, but they don't really know that they're doing it for no reason. To them, they're killing because.... that's what they do. And if there's not reason for it other than that, it's likely in an artificial environment created by us. We are the only ones that can recognize that our urge to kill is completely irrational, because we're not wild animals anymore. And we're the only ones that can decide to do it anyway. An umbrella behavior for both of those is that we are the only animals that a)recognize that something is just our nature and b)go against that because our society creates rules contrary to our evolutionary nature, and sometimes c)go against those rules anyway.

Fogster, I'm not sure exactly what difference you're pointing out. Yes, at some level our tools are different than the tools of animals, but what difference are you proposing. Anyhow, I propose this one: we are (AFAIK) the only animals that use tools to make other tools.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2008


Missmagenta, I'm going to half-heartedly dispute your answer. I think there are animals where all males but the alpha male would decline to procreate, because they know if they do they'll get beaten or killed. However, that seems kind of more like a decision to not die, or to not disturb the social order, than to not procreate. I guess humans are the only ones that decide... i dunno, that they don't want to procreate, to the extent that you can decide that.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:53 AM on January 27, 2008


Distributed knowledge? Even among species that have shown reasoning and communication, I'm not sure you'll find, say, a doctor or an expert on building.

It's probably assumed, but I'll disclaim that I don't know this for sure.

Oh, speaking of communication: irony / humor?
posted by fogster at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2008


gaucho: it was hard for me to word that one well. What I was trying to get as was a distinction between natural and "man-made" / synthetic things, but trying to steer clear of that phrase, since, by definition, only humans can make "man-made" things. We have intermediate materials: steel, plastic, rubber, etc., whereas every case I've seen with animals is just taking something from nature, and, in advanced cases, modifying it a bit.

While "using tool to make other tools" isn't directly what I was getting at, it represents the basic concept in a much less botched manner than did my example.
posted by fogster at 11:07 AM on January 27, 2008


This might run the risk to come across as a moralistic answer to a question not seeking that type of answer, but I still think it's relevant given the context so here goes...

In the animal ethics literature the role of vague questions concerning human uniqueness has been critically scrutinized since "only humans can _____ " (fill in the blank) is standardly used as a gut reaction defence by a lot of people to excuse whatever they're doing to or with animals (confine, kill, eat, harm, exploit...).

So let me specify two significantly different versions of the question:

Q1: What are some things that ALL humans do (have the capacity to do) that NO other animal individual does?

A1: There are no such things.

Q2: What are some things that at least SOME human individual does (have the capacity to do) that NO other animal individuals does?

A2: now some of the standard answers can be given: engage in highly abstract thinking, very complex action, plan far ahead into the future. (But even in these cases evolutionary theory has shown us that most capacities are gradual: what some humans have to a large degree other human and other animal individuals have to a lesser degree. That is true for thought, action and planning at least.)

Separating the questions like this makes it clear that Q1 has no affirmative answer and therefore cannot be used to justify animal exploitation. Q2 have some affirmative answers but any capacity that it specifies has a hard time carrying much moral weight, since if lack of future planning capacity, for example, was taken to justify rearing and killing animals for meat, then what about humans who also lack that capacity?
posted by nolnar at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Trust - it's the entire basis of the adaptive social behaviour known as morality.
posted by meehawl at 11:19 AM on January 27, 2008


Do bee dances count as symbolic communication?
posted by Abiezer at 11:31 AM on January 27, 2008


Religion.
posted by Jeff Howard at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2008


I thought I read once that humans are the only creatures to procreate face-to-face. Not that we necessarily do all the time, just that we're the only ones with that option.

Look into books/documentaries from Desmond Morris, like The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo. I think they'll be full of just the sort of information you're looking for. He's a pretty entertaining guy, to boot. He did a few BBC specials, too (I think they were on the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel here in the US, but this was a few years back).
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2008


I learned yesterday that humans are the only mammals that DON'T eat the placenta

ummm
..... errr
posted by Rumple at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2008


Make mortgage payments.
posted by Doohickie at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, corvids are thought to have a "theory of mind", something humans don't develop until early childhood. (PDF: Feathered Apes)
posted by Rumple at 12:31 PM on January 27, 2008


Ask questions. And answer them.
posted by Tehanu at 12:42 PM on January 27, 2008


I read somewhere that humans were the only animals that could run 20 miles, swim a mile, then climb a tree.

Which I guess is meant to be some kind of comment on the generality of the human adaptation being the human specialization.
posted by Rumple at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2008


Lie.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:14 PM on January 27, 2008


Rumple, it seems like some large cats might be able to do that. Don't know if tigers climb or leopards swim...

According to my (admittedly half-complete) Anthro courses, it's not exactly that humans are completely unique; we are just way, way better at certain things than other animals. If I remember the formula... upright posture begat tool use, which begat an increase in brain size and which reenforced upright posture. Our increasing intelligence, as well as some physiological changes, led us to language (other animals have verbal communication but not true language). Language allowed us to transmit our ideas re: tool use much more easily, and allowed us to discuss ways to make them better as well (this is mostly speculation, to be fair).

If you look at the fossil record, homo sapiens has been around for around 100,000 years, but our culture only really developed past simple tools around 50,000 years ago. Some people believe that this is because we evolved language around that time.

Oh, and I'd add this- humans are probably the only animals whose evolution has become linked to their cultural development. Our incisors got smaller when we got stone tools, we developed disease resistance and lactose tolerance due to domestication of animals, etc. At this point, we couldn't easily survive without our technology- humans aren't going to be catching animals with their bare hands, because they've evolved cultural ways to do it instead.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:20 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Are humans the only species that drink the milk of another species?
posted by Solomon at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2008


I don't know how you would demonstrate this, but I suspect that human beings are the only animals who contemplate their own mortality.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:40 PM on January 27, 2008


What about leaving the planet? I know there are some species of spider that "migrate" through the upper atmosphere, but do they deliberately leave the planet?
posted by Solomon at 1:51 PM on January 27, 2008


All animals have sex for pleasure: why else would they have it? They don't *know* that it produces babies, only that it feels good. I always thought this was a really dumb idea.

But only humans know that sex produces babies and only humans are believed to know about mortality, yeah. Though there is some evidence that elephants will caress the bones of loved ones, suggesting some knowledge.

Humans are unique in using symbolic language. Empathy is not uniquely human-- nor is theory of mind.
posted by Maias at 2:05 PM on January 27, 2008


Lie

Tactical deception in ravens.


showbiz_liz -- good points, though they seem to be an elaboration on the technology theme -- I mean, if what makes humans special is that we aren't special, just good at some things, that''s a pretty unspecial specialness. So to speak. Co-evolution with culture is a good point, though the archaeology of Chimps shows they used stone tools at least 4,000 years ago, iirc, and certainly the difference between the extended phenotype and material culture is somewhat fuzzy -- where does a caddis larvae end its rock tube begin? And symbiotic relationships are ubiquitous in the natural world, even being disease related -- cowbirds, for example. From a strictly evolutionary point of view, cows and dogs use humans as much as vice versa, as can be guaged by their phenomenal reproductive success compared to, say, wolves or aurochs.


Also, check your definition of "simple tools", especially in light of organic preservation probems (consider the 400,000 year old wooden spears found in Germany, for example).
posted by Rumple at 2:14 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


it seems like some large cats might be able to do that. Don't know if tigers climb or leopards swim...

Cats are built for walking or sprinting. They don't tend to jog very much and certainly couldn't sprint 20 k. Wolves, caribou, etc, could do the run and swim, not the climb.
posted by Rumple at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2008


Nothing, animals do everything we do as well. One question here is that we can't ask them if they ever perceive things like art as art. Same goes for empathy. The only other question is the difference between using simple tools to crack a nut open and using tools to build a shuttle. Is that difference enough to make it a completely new thing to do? We know that humans are capable of intellectual abstraction while we don't know if animals are also capable of that.
posted by rainy at 3:13 PM on January 27, 2008


I thought I read once that humans are the only creatures to procreate face-to-face. Not that we necessarily do all the time, just that we're the only ones with that option.

This actually came up on a Metatalk thread the other day for some reason. No, bonobos have sex in pretty much any position you can think of. They even slip each other the tounge when kissing. Two of the three example GIS search results that pop up when I search for 'bonobo' on the main Google page show them mating face-to-face.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:20 PM on January 27, 2008


smoke

If you're counting lab conditions (like orthogonality does above) the Southwest Research Institute used primates to study the effects of cigarettes. Of course, they got hooked.

Their outside enclosures were visible from Loop 410 when I lived in San Antonio; I loved to see them, even though it made me sad...
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:28 PM on January 27, 2008


We last a long time?
posted by Corduroy at 3:35 PM on January 27, 2008


Whales mate face to face, insofar as they have "faces".

I always thought eagles mated face to face, while falling through the air no less, but apparently not (go to 50 seconds in for funky chicken), or not always.

Dogs have also been known to have a smoke.
posted by Rumple at 3:38 PM on January 27, 2008


Do other animals have anything similar to hospitals? Do other animals care for their disabled and handicapped? I don't know enough about this, but is it plausible that we are the only animal to "conquer" a survival of the fittest lifestyle?
posted by Corduroy at 3:38 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dolphins are known to help other sick or wounded dolphins, and people too. Not to mention "dolphin-assisted therapy", though I guess that is more like using leeches.
posted by Rumple at 3:43 PM on January 27, 2008


Humans seem to be the only creatures who deliberately leave their own life sustaining habits just because they're curious (deep sea divng, space exploration).
posted by Burhanistan at 4:55 PM on January 27, 2008


Could bears manage the run-swim-climb triathlon?

The polar bear certainly runs and swims, but probably doesn't encounter too many trees. Black, brown, and grizzly bears run and climb trees, and I've definitely seen them paddling (to snag salmon), but I'm not sure whether they could make it a mile in the water.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:14 PM on January 27, 2008


Q2: What are some things that at least SOME human individual does (have the capacity to do) that NO other animal individuals does?

Naturally reproduce with other humans may well be the only provably absolute one.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:30 PM on January 27, 2008


I think I heard some where that humans are the only species that understands the passage of time. I know it had to do with the fact that we understood mortality through old age and that time some how played into the equation. Can't remember the source though... maybe a 60 Second Science podcast episode.

Sure, you could say that many species understand the concept of "seasons" but I think this slanted on the side of saying we recognized that time actually passed and would not return or something like that. Rebuttals welcomed.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:50 PM on January 27, 2008


Get married.
posted by peep at 8:16 PM on January 27, 2008


How the hell can we know for sure that animals don't get married or communicate abstract thoughts or think about the future or have their own gods? Just because we can't tell if they do doesn't mean that they don't. Maybe dolphins argue philosophy when we're not looking. How could we know?

I think it's supremely arrogant of our species to claim that we're superior to other animals. There are plenty of things we can't do, even with all our technology. And we're damn sure good at killing things we don't understand. Have some humility, people.

The best book I ever read on this subject is called When Elephants Weep.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:02 PM on January 27, 2008


yes, elephants are a good example since it was only recently that we "discovered" that the largest land animal had a long range, subsonic communication system that previously had been completely overlooked. One wonders what else is out there.
posted by Rumple at 10:31 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Acridrabbit, I certainly was not implying that marriage is evidence of human superiority. In addition, I see nothing in the OP's question that implies that he's looking for examples of human superiority to animals.
posted by peep at 10:45 AM on January 28, 2008


No other adult mammal than human beings drink milk.
posted by leigh1 at 6:00 PM on January 28, 2008


Not true at all. Cows drink their own milk if they are producing too much to relieve pressure/pain.

Also, various animals (mice and shrews for one example) follow lactating cows around and drink the milk.
posted by Brockles at 6:13 PM on January 28, 2008


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