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Social Biology and Dinosaur Behavior

Please read these two excerpts:

Chris Campbell wrote:

<<You could look at it like that.  You could also look at it like:

"Food is scarce.  If you help we'll be more likely to catch our prey,
and half a meal is better than none."

This scenario leads to less energy wasted on conflict and requires
very little in the way of brainpower; it could actually all be done on

And archosaur@usa.net wrote:

<<Not only has the cooperative hunting been observed in
nile crocs taking down large terrestrial prey, but
it's also been seen in crocs eating large fish (NilePerch come to
mind) The following information can be found in the book Crocodiles
and Alligators.>>

I think we all need to find out a lot more about social biology before
we start drawing conclusions like these (I include myself here, by the
way).  These conclusions, I suspect, are often based on our inability
to see that animals don't "get it." 

What do I mean?

We often forget that we ourselves are members of that extremely select
group, true cooperative hunters.  Not only do we cooperate in hunting,
but in many other activities as well, leading eventually to the almost
unbelievably sophisticated world we live in now.  It can be extremely
efficient to cooperate, so can we really imagine that animals don't
"get" this, don't see the efficiency?  It seems clear that that's the
core of this problem: we see animal behavior and anthropomorphize it.

I've included Chris's quote because I think it indicates this tendency
to attribute human thought patterns to hawk behavior as they dive down
at the same rabbit.  It's bad netiquette, but I hope that Chris won't
mind if I mention that, in an offlist exchange about Sue's "healed"
leg, I directed Chris to Darren Tanke's post about healing (as opposed
to healed) tyrannosaur legs.  Chris was interested in Darren's
observations and commented that if he were a tyrannosaur he'd
nonetheless have wanted to cooperate because times were tough back

I think we all do this without realizing it -- we look at animal
behavior and interpret it through human eyes, which of course are all
we have.

I included archosaur's post because he's quoting from a book on
crocodylians.  I read books by workers expert in their knowledge about
their species (or genus or whatever, as the case may be) who make
precisely the same mistakes non-specialists do, because they're not
experts in social biology.  

I think that this problem is especially prevalent in dinosaur
paleontology.  Dinosaur paleontologists are primarily trained to
reconstruct dinosaur biology and evolution, but they're frequently
called upon to describe dinosaur behavior (that's what we're all
really interested in, isn't it? -- that's the real puzzle of the
dinosaur), with sometimes rueful results (see recent comments by Phil
Currie about Giganotosaurus's lifestyle!).

A friend who is a paleolife artist suggested that I read a textbook on
social biology by, if I recall correctly, Wilson.  It is apparently
very dense and hard-going but extremely comprehensive and eye-opening
and so I'm going to work through it, and I suggest that others who
enthusiastically join in these discussions look for a similar book on
this specific topic as well.  

Until then, and please forgive the vulgar phrase,  we're all talking
out of our respective asses on this subject, and quoting experts on a
specific species/genus etc. doesn't really help.  In the meantime, I'd
propose that, in interpreting some of these quotes, the list reader
keep the above in mind.


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