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More Than Cute: The Science of Animal Friendships

The science of animal friendships offers perspective on relationships as a whole.

Sources: TIME Magazine | NY Times

Liz and Tau Frolicking in the Snow by the Batavia Kill

Animals are known to befriend humans, as well as other animals outside of their species. Scientists are interested in these “unlikely animal relationships.” A puppy riding on a turtle’s back, a duckling cuddling with a housecat, a goat trotting along with a rhinoceros - just a few examples of videos that go viral.

Why are humans at the edge of their seats over this? What does this tell us about how animals communicate? Research shows animals are just as capable of forming lasting friendships as humans, and reap many of the same benefits.

In 2012, the topic graced the cover of TIME magazine -

“BFFs are not just for humans.”

Then in 2016, TIME released the special edition “The Science of Relationships.” On the cover, a photo of a woman hugging her dog appears side by side with photos of an old married couple and a young family. The article, “The Best Pets for Your Health,” is sandwiched between topics on sibling dynamics and making friends in adulthood.

This begs the question: What is friendship?

Tau + Friends

Dr. Barbara J. King, an anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, defines it as a long period of time in which both partners experience mutuality, engagement, and accommodation to meet each other’s needs.

Yet this bond extends beyond human companionship and “man’s best friend.” Scientists are discovering “other species share abilities once considered exclusive to humans, including some emotions, tool use, counting, certain aspects of language and even a moral sense,” according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, bats form cliques, chimpanzees prefer companions with similar personalities and elephants provide emotional support in times of stress.

Stress is inevitable in the animal kingdom. Yet it’s possible for animals who might normally be enemies to resolve their differences. Predators sometimes befriend their prey. A snake considers a hamster for lunch, then opts to forge a more positive relationship. Scientists consider whether the predator is more hungry… or lonely.

Some studied closer the relationship between Amur, the tiger, and Timur, the goat, at the Siberian Zoo. Timur, meant to be Amur’s dinner, became his friend. On one hand, a zoo-keeper speculated an 80 percent chance that Amur will end up eating Timur. On the other, studies show that once the dynamic is formed, especially at an early age, the friendship will last, replacing instinct with learned behavior.

So viral videos of interspecies-relationships are more than just cute; they show another facet of science… and our capacity to set aside our differences. These accounts are met with some skepticism because many happen in an environment controlled by humans. As we have the capacity to foster such meaningful relationships among animals, we possess this same potential for humanity.

It’s time to embrace healthy relationships. If a snake can make peace with its prey, surely we, too, can make peace with each other.

This article was brought to you by the firm's mascot : Tau the Siberian Husky

Tau is a 2 1/2-year old wooly Siberian Husky, and it’s his life mission to make as many friends as possible. If you see us walking on Main Street or at the Windham Path Dog Park (coming soon!), come say hi!

He particularly enjoys mailing our newsletters at the post office, because they keep a box of dog biscuits behind the counter.

Want to add a dog run, a catico, or a jungle gym for your bird in your house?

We love incorporating special places for pets in our house designs. Call the speak with Liz about the possibilities for your furry loved ones, or book your free Q+A call below:


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