Intellect, as someone once said, is what separates us from the animals. Well, that and not being afraid of vacuum cleaners. So this week, we bring some powerful human intellect to bear on some puzzling animal behaviour.
“Infants use their index fingers to point in what appears to be an attempt at communicating,” writes Dennis Parsons of Victoria. Do simians do the same?
Well, yes and no, says Frances Burton, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Toronto. “Simian” is a term referring to monkeys and apes, she explains, but the difference between them is very great.
“Significant evolutionary developments occurred in the ape line that monkeys do not exhibit,” she writes. “Among these is pointing.”
This was once thought to be exclusively human behaviour, but “there is now clear evidence that the apes (chimps and bonobos in particular) demonstrate referential pointing,” she writes. “That is, they point to an object to communicate an idea or future action. Monkeys give significant looks but do not point.”
She also tells us that monkeys do not see themselves in mirrors, whereas apes can.
So, “while there are important genetic differences between apes and us, there is certainly a clear indication that our ancestors and their ancestors were in the same pool.”
Roger Young of West Vancouver wants to know why cats don’t like being in water.
Some cats don’t seem to mind it, according to Derek Wilson.
Twice in early May, he discovered animal droppings on Burnaby Mountain, near his home in Port Moody, B.C., that appeared to have been left by a cougar, or mountain lion.
“Since Burnaby Mountain is surrounded by urban development on three sides and the salt water of Burrard Inlet on the fourth side,” he writes, “I wondered how the large cat had found its way to this location.”
So, he borrowed a copy of The Cougar Almanac: A Complete Natural History of the Mountain Lion by Robert H. Busch. The book told him that cougars are good swimmers and it included a photograph of a big cat proving the point.
Mr. Wilson also talked about this with a neighbour, a marine mechanic, who remarked that he had met some fishermen who had encountered a cougar swimming between islands in the Strait of Georgia.
“So,” he says, “there are some cats who are good swimmers – although who knows if they really like to do it.”
While we’re on the subject of water, Eric Morris of Montreal wonders whether pets prefer to drink water that’s cold or at room temperature.
Margie Halling of Toronto, who has a golden retriever and a cat that is a Himalayan-Siamese cross, tells us that she always keeps a clean bowl of water for her pets at room temperature. “But when I open the fridge and fill a small second bowl with cold water, the gang comes running. So, in our house, regardless of species, cold water wins hands (paws) down.”
Meanwhile, E. Veitch of Cork Station, N.B., writes: “My Great Pyrenees mountain dog would not drink water at room temperature. She’d wait until I added ice cubes.”
- Paul Therrien of Gatineau, Que., would like to know if any composers have based pieces of their music on bird songs.
- When police use a lineup to identify a suspect, where do they get the other people? asks M.H. Brown of Vancouver.
- Jackie Phillips of Toronto wonders why we talk about someone’s “neck of the woods.” Why “neck”?
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