Animals Letting Off Steam!

Animals Letting Off Steam!
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

In a world governed by the law to eat or be eaten, it’s hard to imagine that we can sometimes indulge in play or relaxation. And yet, small pleasures, letting go and having fun are concepts that truly exist in the animal kingdom, and not just for our pootches and kittens at home. With the start of spring break, here’s a look at the ways in which some animal species “let off steam” or simply “go wild” for a while.

For most animals in the wild, life consists of a relentless struggle to avoid predators, find food and protect themselves from the elements. 

Yet, like us, many of them also take the time to engage in activities that, at first glance, may seem completely pointless, often senseless, just for the fun of doing them. Scientists don’t agree on what exactly constitutes play when it comes to animals, whether they really derive pleasure from these activities, and to what extent they’re all beneficial. However, it’s undeniable that many animals enjoy in a variety of playful activities, and many of them are far less innocent than we might think.


Preparing to Confront Any Danger

Watch a litter of baby felines and you’ll see that they are true champions at chasing, stalking, jumping and biting! They are completely absorbed in their “attacks” on their brothers and sisters and give it their all. 

Some animal researchers claim that this form of play prepares little felines for the trials and tribulations of their adult lives. Having a litter mate who sleeps innocently one second, then pounces on you with all claws out the next, trains the young feline to react quickly, to remain alert in all circumstances.

Taking One’s Place in the Group

Baby kangaroos, called joeys, are often seen fighting with their own mothers. While the cubs struggle to defeat their mother, the mothers simply paw at their offspring, shaking their heads to indicate that it’s all in good fun. 

This innocent boxing game is an essential element that will later be used to establish the young kangaroo’s hierarchical position. In the meantime, using mum as a punching bag is a safe way of testing out their right-side jabs!

Fun… Just for Fun

For every example where play seems to prepare animals for the skills they’ll have to exercise in its adult life, there are many others that suggest that some animals have fun ... just for fun. 

Ravens have been observed sledding on frozen roofs. Elephant calves have been seen using muddy river banks as makeshift water slides. Herring gulls regularly drop shells in mid-air, then catch them in the air, an activity that seems purely playful since gulls don’t hunt molluscs in mid-air! 

So the simple pleasure of having fun is far from being the monopoly of human beings, and may be more widespread than we think!

PART 2: Relaxing

Lazing About: The Art of Doing Nothing

Stopping for a moment and saving yourself for more energy-consuming activities is an essential skill, particularly in the animal kingdom. Whether it’s taking a nap at the top of a tree, lounging under an acacia tree in the hottest part of the day or lazing on a sunny beach, examples abound of animals in “do not disturb” mode. 

For some, like African lions, it’s a chance to digest the fruits of their last hunt, while avoiding the scorching sun. For others, like crocodilians, it’s a chance to take advantage of the warm sun to raise their body temperature and activate their metabolic functions. 

But don’t be fooled by this apparent sluggishness: their senses are always on the alert!

A SPA in the Middle of Nature

Do you fancy smearing yourself with mud or lounging in thermal baths? We’re not the only ones to have discovered the benefits of these little pleasures! 

The Japanese macaques that live in the Jigokudani reserve in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture attract the attention of thousands of photographers every year for their very special behavior: soaking in the onsens, the local hot springs. The primates acquired this behavior while observing guests at a local hotel in the 1960s, and it has since been passed down from generation to generation by this particular group of macaques.

Rhinos, for their part, are particularly fond of ... mud baths. Few displays are as impressive as a pachyderm weighing close to 3 tons wallowing in a pool of clay all four legs in the air! 

In this case, it’s not a question of trying to restore a velvety texture to their armored skin, but rather to create an effective barrier against the sun’s rays and mosquito bites ... but let’s agree, it looks quite pleasant all the same!

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