Monday, January 31, 2011

The Survival of the Cleverest

Crash! Bam! I heard a lot of banging against the windows in my kitchen, dining room, and smack into the glass panel of my back door. It startled me the first time this happened but by now it is somewhat common and I know what it means: a hawk is on the prowl. The birds take off from the feeders and bushes, from their comfortable perches on the roof, and head into what looks like clear space in their panicked flight to escape. I am always surprised that they don’t give themselves concussions, they hit that hard, though I haven’t yet seen any bird lying zonked out on the ground.

As usual, I ran to the window to check out the drama. Creatures were scattering everywhere in mad disarray. What surprised me though, was what the squirrels were doing. One of them looked up at the sky, then dashed onto the bare limbs of the butterfly bush under a canopy of concealing snow. Another wiggled its way between the seed pails we keep on the patio and blended into the shadows. The most intriguing of all, however, was the squirrel who found an alternative use for the baffles we put up to keep exactly those critters off the bird feeders. This one shimmied up the pole and into the tube. Normally, if they are just investigating the possibility of getting up to the feeders that way, they soon see the futility of it and come right down. This time the squirrel stayed silent and hidden with all of its parts tucked tightly inside.

Sure enough, I saw the hawk whip through the backyard, its wings spread wide but nothing in its talons. It took off beyond the tulip tree to parts unknown. The squirrel in the baffle slowly peeked under the tube and looked around. No hawk. It slid down and started eating the seeds that had fallen from the feeders. And then everyone returned to resume what they had been doing before the alarm went off.

I thought of Darwin and the survival of the fittest theory. The scene I had just witnessed made me re-think what the fittest means. Is it the most physically fit, the strongest? Is it the most adaptable gene pool? Perhaps it refers to a superior mental agility. Maybe it’s all of the above. Certainly, in this case, survival was due to some very clever actions. It makes me wonder how over the years scientists could discount the thought process in animals. That seems to be changing. I hope so. This was an impressive display of individual problem solving and what clearly seems an example of the survival of the cleverest.
I am sure I’m not the only one to witness the actions of some very clever animals. If you have, too, share what you’ve seen with us.

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