Backbones

Thursday, September 17, 2020

I ran across this interesting comment: In back-boned animals, being social means having to keep track of many other individuals. It’s understandable that science may categorize “back-boned” as a key identifier among physiologies. Animals with a backbone are called vertebrates. The backbone is is a column of bones supporting the body, and also protecting the spinal cord. Examples of creatures that lack backbones are bees and ants.

It’s striking that back-boned suggests unique social inclinations, and seems unarguable. My brain’s listing of back-boned types are those we know, love, and admire, like dogs, horses, cats, people, bears, fish, and…you get the picture. These are social, and some are a little anti-social, but all keep track tightly or loosely of others in their categories, and of others in different type categories.

For example, fish behavior illustrates tracking, too. (A recent underwater video wowed me, so fish pop into my mind.) The small freshwater aquariums in my home have me watching individuals and groups, for signs of wellness, sluggishness, or illness. These back-boned swimmers track similar others by schooling, and a type that’s cautious toward another type tracks to avoid closeness.

Behaviors of back-boned creatures suggest also that they have large brains. But, consider non-backboned creatures with tiny brains, like ants and bees. They’re mostly thought of pre-programmed to do specific work for which they’re hatched. Ant research teaches, however, that these creatures demonstrate amazing abilities to adapt, both in physiology and behavior, during times of great need. Bee studies are showing scientists that some bees have developed larger brains after having adapted to more varied diets.

About the broad spread in which humans track others, I’m wowed. For example, there’s tracking as I work in a part-time job and recognize frequent shoppers. We’ve become friends and discuss mutual events since our last meeting. At home, folks in my neighborhood may meet casually and stay fairly-closely in contact. And then, there’s social media making it possible to track early-life contacts. Social media can add cement to recent and physically-distant contacts. Oh and Zoom! But later for Zoom, as we’re still learning.

Dear Friends: All fascinating, for who’d a thought so much can ride on back-bones? Diana

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