Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spiders vs Dragons vs Pirates... and Cock-a-doodle-doo


As some of you may recall, Sarah and I are working on a project looking at aggression between den cubs. In these experiments, we put a small amount of a yummy treat (read: some powdered milk or a raw egg) out for the cubs and watch them squabble over it. It's quite fun!

A milk trial in action.
  
My interest in this project lies in how juveniles learn their matrilineal ranks. Spotted hyena cubs almost always end up occupying the rank directly below their mothers. Despite the fact that the cubs will eventually find their places in the matrilineal rank hierarchy, it takes them some time to learn their appropriate ranks, and 'low-ranking' cubs can often enjoy a few months on top before being relegated to a subordinate lifestyle. In this project, I'm looking at how quickly different cubs learn their ranks and how the rank-learning process progresses. 

The lineup of Happy Zebra hyenas: Cock-a-doodle-doo is the
big one in the middle. Behind him are The Spiders,
The Dragons, and The Pirates.
So far, the Happy Zebra cubs have been obliging me with a dramatic den scene. The cubs currently at the den are (listed in order of highest matrilineal rank): Recluse and Daddy Long Legs (“The Spiders”), Puff and Smaug (“The Dragons”), Booty and Savvy (“The Pirates”) and Cock-a-doodle-doo.  Initially, it appeared as if the cubs all knew their ranks; The Spiders were very dominant and aggressive, and easily monopolized the milk powder. I was worried that I had already missed the rank-learning period!



video
Recluse and Daddy Long Legs sent all the other cubs
running during the initial milk trials.

Soon after, however, The Pirates achieved ‘alpha cub’ status at the den. One day, they were suddenly excluding everyone from the milk powder, and even The Spiders were bowing and scraping at the merest glance from Booty and Savvy. The Pirates had a nice long reign, but unfortunately for them, they are destined to be lower ranking than both The Spiders and The Dragons for most of their lives. 

video
Booty and Savvy showing Recluse who is boss.

In the most recent turn of events, The Spiders are once again dominant at the den, although it remains to be seen if this is the final change in ranks or if it is just another takeover on the way to alignment with the matrilineal ranks.

video
Back on top: Daddy Long Legs bite-shakes Booty in the
most recent rank change from the Happy Zebra den. 
(Narration by Heidi)

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing The Dragons come into their own, for thus far they have been the shyest of the cubs at the den. Soon they will have to put the strong willed and highly aggressive Pirates in their place.

The Dragons in play while Recluse looks on. The Pirates
are happily suckling away in the background.
But what about Cock-a-doodle-doo? Well, sadly, Cock-a-doodle-doo has quickly learned that he is the lowest ranking of all the den cubs, and his life already mirrors that of many other low ranking hyenas who have come before him. Here are some highlights of of the poor little guy's life at the Happy Zebra den. 

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The life of Cock-a-doodle-doo and many other low-ranking 
hyenas that have come before him.

1 comment:

Ignacious Gman said...

Its sad to think a poor little cub like cock-a-doodle-doo suffers under the hierarchy of this clan and others like him by the species. But life is hard for low rankers for a reason. And they suffer most so that those that do survive end up the hardiest in the clan even if they dont get the respect. I think its the more important effect of survival of the fittest isnt that the strongest hold the most privelidge against adversity but that adaption comes from the most adaptable, and that is ussually the underdog. What doesnt kill little cock-a-doodle-do, only makes them stronger. :)


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