Hello! And welcome to my very first blog! I know this has been done before by many others and that you have a lot of other options of blogs to look through, so thank you for taking the time to check out mine!
Who am I? My name is Kristin, and I’m a graduate student working on my Ph.D. in animal behavior. No, I’m not a veterinarian. No, I can’t tell you what that weird, oozing rash is on your cat Mewbacca’s (insert-kitty-parts-here). What I am is a behavioral ecologist in training.
Behavioral ecology is a sub-field within biology that seeks to understand the evolutionary basis for animal behavior. We are a curious people that are driven to understand things like how ants or bees make decisions as individuals even though they live in large, complex societies.
Leaf Cutter Ants in Costa Rica (Photo By: Kristin Hook)
Why some spider species are social and what benefits they might gain from living in a group and being cooperative.
Social Huntsman Spiders from Australia (Credit: Dr. Linda Rayor)
Why male fiddler crabs have ONE GIANT CLAW!
Male Fiddler Crab (Credit: Copyright: Tanya Detto)
I mean, really, that thing is just silly looking. Might they use it to compete for females? Is bigger always better? Are they always honest about what their claw says about them, or can they be deceptive?
What female water bugs really find sexy when looking for a mate to glue their eggs to. Males in this group are the ones who care for offspring, termed paternal care. Is this a common form of care? When is it common and in what animal species? And what, pray tell, are those mischievous females up to?
Giant Water Bug Male with Eggs Glued to His Back
Why males of many birds are so colorful and gaudy and what they are saying when they sing, call, or dance!
Blue-Footed Booby Feet in Ecuador (Photo By: Kristin Hook)
Blue Bird of Paradise
These are just a few examples to whet your appetite.
Though behavioral ecology tends to center around animals and their behaviors, the field can be further subdivided into different types of behaviors (e.g. social, parental, sexual).
The burning in my id is mating behavior, or green porno, if you will. One question that still boggles me is why females mate multiply, termed polyandry. We know that there are many costs to mating, so why would females choose to do so many times with different males? There are many hypotheses as to why, but one thing is certain: the female’s choice to mate with different males often puts the sperm of one male in direct competition with the sperm of another male within her reproductive organs, or tract. This is especially true if she is able to store sperm, as is known in many female animals, including insects and birds.
And now we’ve arrived to my favorite party conversation topic – the study of sperm competition! It has quite a heavy hand as a selective force in a) shaping sperm to be fierce, competitive, and numerous and b) making female reproductive tracts as selective as possible so that not just anyone can fertilize her eggs.
Well done, ladies.
So this is my start. I intend for this blog to be a source of entertainment and information. My passion for animals and their behavioral oddities will be the focus. I will undoubtedly write about animal stories involving mating, but I also intend to keep an eye out for the latest in research and pass that along to you as well. I would also love to hear from you – what you’d like more of, what you read about that I overlooked and should post, what questions you have, et cetera.
A bigger question that remains is why should we care about animal behavior? I consider myself lucky that I get to spend my day thinking about organisms and their behavioral oddities and working with other people who also think about these interesting questions. Through experimentation, we attempt to answer them. Sometimes that works, and sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board. Finding these answers is exciting, and knowing more than we did before serves the purpose of progressing our science and moving to the next step or question. It also provides us with a deeper appreciation for the natural world. Why would you want to bother saving something if you didn’t know what was contained within it? This is the importance of basic research, or discovery science. It provides us with foundational knowledge that may then lead to practical real-world applications.
Though starting this blog is a partially selfish endeavor (to practice writing on science topics that I hold dear and simultaneously working on my communication skills), it is mostly purposed for sharing research and news of the weird with you, whether you’re a scientist or not. I dislike how divided academia and the research community are from non-scientists, non-researchers, and non-academics. Education is a right, not a privilege. I’ve dedicated the last four years of my life to learning about the curiosities and oddities of animal behavior – both the theories and the experimentation. It’s about damn time I share those stories.