January 11, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Observing Animals for Fun and Profit

Whether scientists watch Animal Planet for inspiration or not, they often are fixated on the wonders in the animal kingdom and want to understand and imitate them.  Here are some recent examples:

  1. Waddle of the Penguins:  Max Kurz at U of Houston enjoys watching cuddly penguins like most of us, but wonders how they waddle without falling down.  If he can figure out how they keep their balance as they bob from side to side when walking, he thinks he may be able to help the elderly and disabled.
  2. Antlers in a Rut  How can male elk and other members of the deer family grow such huge bony structures every year?  Joanna Price of the Royal Veterinary College wants to know, reported BBC News.  The antlers apparently grow from stem cells.  If they can do it, maybe humans can learn the secret of regenerating body parts.
  3. Go to the Ant, Thou Student:  Well, what do you know: ants have teachers and students.  An article in UK News Telegraph summarized a paper in Nature1 by two biologists at University of Bristol who found that ants can do “tandem teaching” – that is, the teacher will stop until the student signals that he got the lesson.  This is better pedagogy than in the ape world, where the teaching is always one-way.
        The scientists were stunned at this “example of teaching.”  They wrote that, “to our knowledge,” this is “the first in a non-human animal, that involves bidirectional feedback between teacher and pupil.”  Reporter Roger Highfield threw in a rather quizzical line at this unevolutionary finding: “dullards and dunces will be encouraged by the discovery that it is the value of what is being taught and the teaching style, rather than brain size, that has most influenced the evolution of teaching2 (emphasis added).  Teacher, could you repeat that?

1Nigel Franks and Tom Richardson, “Teaching in tandem-running ants,” Nature 439, 153 (12 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439153a.
2Highfield took this from the authors’ introduction to their paper: “This behaviour indicates that it could be the value of information, rather than the constraint of brain size, that has influenced the evolution of teaching.”  This was the only mention of evolution in the paper.

We’re going to just keep racking up cases of wonders in the animal kingdom, and evolutionists’ utter cluelessness about explaining them, till students everywhere get the lesson.

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