The Hard Facts: It’s a Jungle Out There

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“In animals as diverse as African elephants and barnyard mice, blue monkeys of Kenya and feral horses of New Zealand, affiliative, longlasting and mutually beneficial relationships between females turn out to be the basic unit of social life, the force that not only binds existing groups together but explains why the animals’ ancestors bothered going herd in the first place.” (The Spirit of Sisterhood Is in the Air and on the Air.”;  New York Times 4/23/2012)

You guys, this is so cool! I’m not even much of an animal lover, but this article from this week’s Times science section is pretty fascinating. We already knew that animals need friends—but did you know that female animals need female animal friends?  I didn’t.

For example:

“Female chacma baboons with strong sororal bonds have lower levels of stress hormones, live significantly longer and rear a greater number of offspring to independence than do their less socialized peers.”

“Wild mares with female friends are harassed less often by stallions and have more surviving foals than do mares that lack social ties.”

“Female mice allowed to choose a friend as a nesting partner will bear more pups than females forced to share straw space with a mouse they dislike.”

“Female elephants keep in touch with their chums through frequent exchanges of low-pitched vocalizations called rumbles”… that scientists say they “liken to an elephant cell phone.”

I don’t even know what a chacma baboon is! But still, this is awesome.

The article goes on to explain the necessary number of friends for female animals (three) and how to spot BFFs (suckling each others’ lion cubs, or touching trunks, for example). But I’ll stop summarizing. If you love stories of animals BFFs—remember Tarra and Bella?—you should just read it.

I love friendship research because it reminds me that I’m not just some girl whining about missing her friends. It says that science is on my side. And this goes one step further. It says, “Rachel, you’re just like all the other ladies of the animal kingdom.”

Be warned, I gotta say it: I am woman, hear me roar.

Does this surprise you? Ever actually seen any animal BFFs?


Filed under The Search

10 responses to “The Hard Facts: It’s a Jungle Out There

  1. It makes sense that the social support we yearn for is a nuturally occuring thing, and would therefore be reflected in the animal world. Interesting that they were able to nail down the number needed. 3 is a good, solid number I think. 🙂

  2. Aw… this is quite heart-warming. I’m not surprised, though. I think animals are capable of great emotion and care, not just for each other but also across species.
    Psychology taught me that one of the most harmful and destructive things that can happen to us is social isolation. It has extremely damaging consequences for our self-esteem, mental health, etc. etc. To me, it makes a lot of sense that it works that way for other species, too.

  3. Great article. Thanks for posting this.

  4. So, I’m not crazy to be lonely & yearning for female friends? Thanks for the research. As always, very informative!

  5. I see these friendships in our herd of goats, especially the middle and lower ranked goats who can relax and have friends. Thanks for a great post!

  6. vimnjicki

    Animals really are so unique, they don’t complain, are so happy to see you and remember you forever. But it is interesting how female cats or dogs will cotton up to a human MALE, rather than a female. And how my dogs love my hubby, but seem to be in love with me. I have known animals that have saved their MASTER’s life during sleep apnea episodes, or pulled children from fires. We need their friendship.

  7. Very interesting research. Thanks for posting. I believe being relational is in our genes but we’ve become a mass herd of people doing our own thing with places to go, things to do. I’m thinking that having internet “friends” doesn’t really count in this equation. We recently moved to Seattle from CA, where I had a lot of friends. I have three friends here, and now I feel like I’m “done.” I have no desire to make more friends because of the emotional/time investment involved. Guess that makes me a limited friender.

  8. Megan Nyberg's Meditations

    I love the story of Tarra and Bella. I saw the You Tube video and got all choked up while teaching a group of kids. None of them were crying so I think it freaked them out, but they, too saw the importance of friends!
    On the flip side, I once helped rehabilitate a duck (I’m actually not that much of an animal lover) and when we released it back with its friends the other ducks ignored him! Just waddled away from him. His leg had been severely injured by a snapping turtle and the other ducks showed no mercy.
    The one duck got upset whenever any of the ducks tried to include him.
    It was the biggest display of exclusion I’d ever witnessed.
    It was that moment when I realized that animals need friends and have feelings, too!!
    Now I sound like a crazy duck lady…!

  9. This is awesome! It reminds me of the lionesses I saw in Africa. They all hang out together, taking care of each other’s cubs and doing the hunting for the pride. For some reason I felt an affinity with them. I just loved how they were there for each other. Us human girls need the same thing!

  10. Jen Q

    I see it in my sheep; mother and grown daughters are most common, or in one case 2 ewes who were not related but raised as sisters. In general they always lay together and eat together and call to each other most if seperated. They will go off alone and give birth, then keep at a distance from the flock with their new born lambs for about 3 days, but will allow their friends to visit first. Also, my hens have social groups within the flock, roosting in set groups and laying eggs together seperate from other groups of hens laying elsewhere. If one senses danger and squacks, her close friends are the ones near to hear it. Since they share a nest, they will hatch each other’s chicks. I used to raise mice; the females would make a communal nest and nurse each other’s babies.

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