Friday, June 12, 2009

Great Crested Grebe or do animals share our sense of beauty?

The great crested grebe is the largest of the European grebes. When fancy ladies' hats were in fashion at the end of the 19th century it was almost hunted to extinction, but has made a good recovery and now is fairly common, particularly on weed-rimmed lakes, where it dives for fish.

great crested grebe (Click on photo for larger view)

I find it uncanny that the perception of beauty is not uniquely human, that birds, and in fact many animals from insects and fishes up, share our sense of aesthetics. Look at butterflies, reef fish and, secondarily, even flowers. Perception of what are pleasing colors, patterns, arrangements, seems to be hard-wired into the brain, and frequently the females of the species are the specialists; who judge for example which bird’s of paradise display is the most stunning, or which bower bird's staging the most artistic.

Opposing that is the desire to remain physically unattractive to predators. The color black for instance seems to be associated with poor food value. Crows and ravens, also jackdaws, are rarely hunted and eaten, even in times of dire need and famine. I am speculating that it is the much harsher environmen that makes them compete not on the basis of beauty but by survival skills, who is the smartest, the
most cunning ... It would be an interesting subject for a study.

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