More fun than a barrel of monkeys? How about a barrel of bonobos?
Bonobos (once known as pygmy chimpanzees) are among the most playful of primates—and, along with common chimps, are the closest biological cousins of humans (their DNA and ours are almost 99 percent identical). We have a replica bonobo skeleton at The Naturalist's Notebook that, standing next to our replica human skeleton, makes the physical similarity quite clear.
Click on the above video (released last week by TED.com) for a lively description of bonobos at play by highly engaging Chilean primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo. She studies bonobos in the wild in Congo, the only place in the world where those critically endangered great apes live. The video has a bit of sexual content, some of which is quite amusing.
If you don't have time for the video (and don't tell me you're not going to watch it after that last sentence), here's a snippet of an interview she did recently with businessweek.com:
Q: What can humans learn from the bonobo?
A: "Much! Three main aspects: playfulness, social tolerance, and female bonding.
"We have an extraordinary opportunity to learn from bonobos, more about our own evolutionary past on one hand, and on the other the incredible diversity of social organization in animals. Bonobos are our evolutionary cousins, that is, we share a common ancestor with them who lived approximately 6 million years ago. Since all the modern human ancestors are extinct, bonobos and chimpanzees are our living closest relatives, the best window we have into our past.
"Most of the narratives around human evolution have been informed by what we know from chimpanzees, not from bonobos—since we know relatively little about them and most studies come from captivity, not from the wild. Chimpanzees are well-known for being toolmakers, hunters, patriarchal, aggressive, political, and strongly hierarchical. Bonobos on the other hand are female-dominated, much more socially tolerant, with lessened and more flexible hierarchies, playful throughout their lives, peaceful both within and between groups.
"It then follows that if we were to learn only from chimpanzees, our ideas of our past would be heavily skewed; we would be missing essential and wonderful aspects of what makes us human."
The English word play comes from the Dutch word pleien, which means "to dance, leap for joy and rejoice." Beyond that, no one's sure how it originated or came to refer to creating sounds with a musical instrument or acting out parts on stage. Hamlet's the one who said, "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" (referring to his play-within-a-play, designed to reveal the treachery of the uncle who murdered his father).
I rather like a line uttered even earlier in history, one that still rings true to anyone who has ever engaged in golf, cards, pickup basketball or board games: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." That quotation comes from, uh, Play-toe.
Just One More...
Watch polar bears and dogs playing—a surprisingly common occurence when they're together...
Animal Cartoon of the Day
Two pigs, a mother and offspring, are looking down at a large piggy bank lying on the floor of their bedroom. Says the sow to the piglet: "You nickel and dimed your father to death!"
Answer to the Last Puzzler:
1) spider (persid)
2) granite (natrige)
3) cardinal (dicalarn)
4) swordfish (showisrfd)
5) sumac (mucas)
6) migration (intamigor)
You're looking at three light switches in the headquarters of the animal sanctuary. All are in the OFF position. Each switch controls 1 of 3 light bulbs on the floor above. You may turn any of the switches on but you may go upstairs only once to inspect the bulbs. How can you figure out which switch controls each bulb? (Conservation note: None of the bulbs is an energy-saving compact fluorescent.)
David Suzuki, the Japanese-Canadian nature broadcaster and environmentalist, celebrated number 75 on Friday. His exuberance, intelligence and foresight are all on display in this interview:
Conrad Gesner, the Swiss naturalist who was both a pioneering botanist and a founder of modern zoology, would have turned 495 on Saturday. In an astonishing five-volume work, he described and illustrated all known animals. In his spare time he put together a bibliography of every book written by every writer who had ever lived. And he may have invented the pencil, though he more likely was just the first to document the existence of that writing instrument.
Wilhelm Roentgen, the German physicist who discovered X-rays (and, it should be noted, was an avid naturalist and mountaineer), would have been 166 on Sunday. He used the term X-ray because in mathematics X stands for an unknown. The first X-ray picture he took was of his wife's hand. When he saw the bones, he is said to have exclaimed, "I have seen my death!"
Leonard Nimoy, the Boston-born actor who played Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek and helped inspire untold numbers of young scientists, turns 80 today. He has joked about how little he actually knows about high-level science even though seemingly everyone who approaches him expects him to be an expert. He did, however, invent the Vulcan hand salute (below) that has become famous. He based it on his childhood memories of how kohanim (Jewish priests) held their hand when giving blessings. His Vulcan expression of good wishes—"Live long as prosper"—is an abbreviated version of one of those blessings.