Facebook, Social Butterflies, & Social Networking in Herds of the Exceptionally Rare Visayan Spotted Deer


Termites, gorillas, orca, and grey wolves are considered “social butterflies” according to one random website that surfaced on my browser. I was looking for a list of nature’s most social animals in the context of very fundamental sociobiological parameters. I must say that I was rather disappointed that this was top ranked web resource on the topic. I was not looking for empirical evidence or a peer review assessment. I just wanted a simple, but comprehensive list of social animals.  I wasn’t looking for species with highly evolved cultures or any thing too sophisticated beyond a list of species which would not be classified as solitary by nature.   I’m not a behaviorist or sociobiologist, but  the one thing that I wanted to convey is that although animals can be quite social, new reports always emerge that suggest that some relatively unknown species also engage in more advanced social networking. Social networking theory describes a more advanced construct than the social dynamics that describe interactions as basic as informing a harem of “who the new girl is” or mechanisms involved in the mediation of kin recognition.  Some of our social interactions as humans are quite primitive and distinct from our highly evolved ability to network.

To share how complicated it can be to measure this advanced social phenomenon, I provide you with the following abstract. I don’t know if you will find this study to be  as riveting as I do, but it exemplifies social networking in a taxon that has been intensively examined with respective to natural history, population structure and social dynamics.

Animal Behaviour
Volume 75, Issue 4, April 2008, Pages 1221-1228

Social networking in the Columbian ground squirrel, Spermophilus columbianus

Theodore G. Manno

Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University U.S.A.

Abstract: Networks are collections of units that potentially interact as a system. Electronic power grids, human societies, the Internet, food webs and metabolic pathways are examples of networks that have emergent properties that allow all vertices (viz. individuals, components, species, etc.) to be linked by a short chain of intermediate vertices. My field observations on a colony of 65 free-ranging Columbian ground squirrels suggest that their society also exhibits these characteristics via social interaction. On average, any dyad of squirrels in the colony can be connected via amicable interaction with three intermediate individuals. The connectivity of individuals (viz. the number of individuals to which an individual is directly connected) decays following a scale-free power law distribution. Individuals that have similar age, reproductive status and number of associates (viz. the number of individuals to which the individual is connected via social interaction) interact amicably with each other more than other squirrels. The network is robust to the removal of random individuals. However, simulated removal of individuals that are connected to many other squirrels increases the number of intermediates between two random individuals and fragments the network into smaller clusters when removals exceed 10% of the individuals in the colony. Thus, certain individuals appear to play more central roles than others in the cohesion of the network. My results reinforce previous studies showing that network theory can be used to determine the roles played by individuals in the cohesion of animal societies, thus providing a framework for studying sociality across species.

Did you get all that?

Unfortunately my intentions were not to address social networking in the animal kingdom, Grevy’ s zebra stallions on Facebook or anything of the kind. I just didn’t have time today. I do like to preface posts with relevant links to the topic at hand.  A lot of you have joined the Facebook group which hosts the global zoo directory. I have ceased to accept requests to join because the directory, as I have mentioned before, is now available at http://www.zoopeeps.net .  If you want to sign up for the free registry, update a profile, and gain access to resources and contacts, this site will serve your networking interests and purposes as a member of the greater zoo professionals’ community. There are over 50 groups, and applications for a diversity of captive wildlife specialists from veterinary pathologists to guest service personnel, marketing specialists and nutritionists, etc.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus


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