Wednesday, December 29

Chimps Use Dolls?

Young female chimpanzees treat sticks as dolls: Growing evidence of biological basis for gender-specific play in humans##

ScienceDaily (2010-12-22) -- Researchers have reported some of the first evidence that chimpanzee youngsters in the wild may tend to play differently depending on their sex, just as human children around the world do. Scientists say female chimpanzees appear to treat sticks as dolls, carrying them around until they have offspring of their own. Young males engage in such behavior much less frequently. ... > read full article

This article elicited a "huh?" reaction from me when I first saw it. However, the results are derived from 14 years of aggregate data, is being supervised by Richard Wrangham, which means I am inclined to believe it. It would not be entirely preposterous for them to need so much observation time in order for them to be able to pick out a significant number of instances of a very particular behavior such as this.

Wired has their take on the story as well (wait, since when does Wired cover primatology?), which is also worth skimming over for the images at very least.

Saturday, December 25

The Entity Known as Tim Curry

That's a bit of an place to pickup again after long delay, isn't it? You see, I'd been spending a bit more time with Tim Curry's group (TC), and as time wore on, it became almost half the time that I was with them, one way or another. They're a bizarre little group, but let me introduce a few of the key players.
  • Tim Curry, but of course. I talked a bit about him in the past, but he has one of the longest and most dignified known histories of any of the baboons in the forest. He is distinguished by his limp, many scars, and being really damn old.
  • Cyrus. The current alpha male. Quite Aaron-like in his demeanor, but probably a couple years younger.
  • Xerxes. The tyrant upstart male of the troop. He's quite new, and no one seems to like him, except me, and I would only say that I don't mind him. Male baboons will be male baboons.
  • Clio. The highest ranking female. A raging and angry bitch of a female baboon. As those dominant females so often tend to be. She doesn't have all that much to be proud of, the troop is less than a dozen adults in total.
  • Terpsichore. Probably the oldest female in the group, possibly the lowest ranking, but definitely the largest. She's a regular behemoth. She looks very similar to Hilda and Midi of the main group, neither of whom I've discussed at great length, which reminds me...

Yes, other than Mr. Curry, whose name defies the measurement of time, all of the adult baboons are given Greek names which have Herodotus' Inquiries in common. But I'm sure we all knew that, so let's just keep moving. You'll hear of the other members of the troop a few posts down the line.

The history of this group is shrouded in mystery and shadows. Before I spent any significant measure of time with these misfits, there was an ancient female among them, far older than Terpsichore. She vanished one day, according to our colleague who regularly visited TC, and was never seen again. As an aged female, her permanent disappearance was marked down to natural causes.

When I began appearing regularly on the scene, Xerxes had just joined the little troop, and had yet to be accepted by the rest of the group. Honestly, he's yet to reach a level of full acceptance on my watch. Maybe the guy really was too much of an asshole to everyone else for his own good. Cyrus had been with the group some time, probably as alpha for most of that, thus the infants and juveniles were likely almost all his. He could afford to get most of the females with so few to worry about.

Terpsichore and Tim seemed to have a thing going on, so that the two of them would consort whenever she swelled in estrous. Tim probably kept control of the deceased old lady who I never met, too. Tim might have occasionally copulated with the lower ranked females. That left 2 or 3 for Tim, and 4 or 5 for Cyrus. Respectable numbers, until Xerxes appeared on the scene.

Since then, everything has been in flux. Cyrus' dominance has been eroding, and looks like it will continue to erode, and the consortship assortments between males and female more and more appear to be completely out the window.

Tim's role in the new male triumvirate was unclear to me. Many civilians said that the troop would go nowhere without him, in spite of his comparatively low position in the male hierarchy. They were mistaken, or at least they were some of the time.

One time in particular, Timmy found his way up into a tree while foraging, as if he were reliving his juvenile years. He apparently found some tasty stuff to munch (the other working theory, which would explain much of Tim's behavior, is that he is no longer quite right in the head), since he remained up there for almost half an hour. This gave the rest of the troop time to move out of sight, cresting a low but steep embankment. Minutes later, we heard a wahoo from further back in the forest and second later we saw Tim limp-running towards us, to the climb the embankment and rejoin the troop at the outskirts. Or rather, in the words of Rainer, Timmy's reaction: "hey guys I was lying here for a few minutes and you all disappeared where are you wahoo."

Tim might just be another old male, only tenuously holding any grip whatsoever on the command of the troop. He's an odd fellow, that one, perhaps the oldest baboon in the area, or at least the one who shows his age far and way more than any other. Tim's eccentricities are just the icing on the cake for this troop because when it comes down to it, they are crazy and weird. Makes for some decent stories, at least.