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This month’s Science title

The social lives of animals

by Ward, Ashley

A rat will go out of its way to help a cold, wet stranger. Cockroaches pass down generational knowledge, hyenas form personal relationships with members of different species, and ants farm fungus in cooperatives. Why do we continue to believe that life in the animal kingdom is ruled by competition? Why do we believe that humans are special for their ability to live and work together, or worse, that human society is somehow “unnatural”? In The Social Lives of Animals, animal behavior expert Ashely Ward embarks on a global search to reveal the surprising, delightful, and occasionally downright strange ways that animals build and manage societies, with both members of their own species and others. Ward studies how shoals of krill search for food by plying them with beer, visits baboons in Namibia that work for hire as goatherds, wades through a literal river of shit to study how groupthink spreads among sticklebacks, and swims with a family of sperm whales that adopted an orphaned dolphin. By studying animal societies on their own terms, we can see clearly that human societies may not be so unique. Rather, human social life may be just one version of a basic animal instinct. Biology has, since Darwin, tried to understand species by studying how they compete. But in the end, The Social Lives of Animals shows that you can often learn more about animals, including humans, by studying how they work together than by how they tear each other apart.

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