Not long ago, a group of animal activists uncovered horrific abuse of hens at a “cage-free” egg farm in California. They found that while the chickens are not in cages, they are trapped in “flesh cages." In other words, they are so tightly packed in with each other that they are unable to turn around. According to the activists’ account, many of the chickens turned to cannibalism in a fight for space—and survival. (The video is here—and it’s not pretty.)
Jen Kim is a writer and former Psychology Today intern, and a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She writes primarily about relationships and being lost in your 20s and 30s. Her writing has been published in Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune's Red Eye, The Northwest Indiana Times, modernman.com, nameberry.com and other outlets.
Editor: Arman Ahmad
It shocked me to learn that my feel-good purchase of cage-free eggs was likely in vain, but I was most shocked by the way these seemingly unintelligent animals desperately tried to find a way to survive.As a carnivore, I rarely think about the welfare of animals I consume. Most of the time, I assume they do not experience feelings, wants or pain—at least not like you and me. Through my rose-colored contacts, most animals are blissfully ignorant of the world around them, unaware or maybe too stupid to know or care if they live or die. Or so I hoped.What this egg farm story illustrates is that even so-called stupid animals—bred mainly for consumption—have grit and will, and sometimes do awful things to survive when they're forced into deplorable, inhumane conditions. Just like us.
There have been other significant discoveries of this kind. Animals, who despite their appearances and ostensible lack of intelligence (comparative to humans), still behave in some incredible, humanistic ways.
1. Rats laugh when tickled.
They love pizza. They ride the escalator. And it turns out, they love to be tickled, too. According to a new study in Science, researchers have discovered that rats can not only be tickled, they even (ultrasonically) squeal with laughterwhen it happens and come back for more, suggesting that, like us, they might even enjoy it. Even more fascinating is that rats must be in the mood to be tickled. The researchers found that anxious rats did not giggle or enjoy being tickled. (Me, either!)
2. Bats get turned on by scent.
Sex sells—and smells. Just look at the perfume industry’s multi-billion dollar profits. Studies even suggest the right smell can make us fall in love. In the infamous t-shirt study from the 1990s, women were asked to sniff men's worn T-shirts and rate the odors.
According to that research team, women "scored male body odors as more pleasant when they differed from the men in their MHC than when they were more similar.” MHC is major histocompatibility complex, referring to genes that make up part of our DNA. One theory of why we are attracted to people who smell differently (and therefore have different DNA) than ourselves is so that we can protect our future offspring from as many diseases as possible.
A new study reveals that female bats are also turned on by the male body odor of their particular Mr. Rights. Because female bats are much larger than male bats, it’s ladies’ choice when it comes to mating, so male bats will douse themselves in their own special “cologne,” a prepared mixture of urine, saliva, and penis secretion that works as biological come-hither scent. Like human females, female bats are drawn to partners with the most different genes from themselves.
3. When in trouble, horses ask you for help.
Whenever my mom needs help with her computer or phone, she gives me a sorrowful, helpless stare, one that lights up every guilt reflex I have and inevitably sends me Googling her computer issue for the next hour or so. As it happens, horses do the same thing. According to researchers from Kobe University, “They use visual and tactile signs to get human attention and ask for help.”
In the study, scientists examined the cognitive abilities of horses by placing buckets of food in places only humans could access. Once the horses realized they couldn’t get to the food, they “stayed near the caretaker and looked at, touched, and pushed the caretaker” to signal they required some assistance—not unlike my mom’s own style of problem solving.
What’s more, the horses even could tell if the caretakers knew where the food was or not, and adjusted their behavior based on this knowledge. According to the research team, “If the caretaker hadn't watched the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals.”
4. Dogs know what you did last summer.
Dog owners, pay attention: All those things that you did in front of your pup and assumed that he would forget? Think again. Researchers have found evidence that, like us, dogs have a developed “episodic memory,” in which they are able to recall a person’s complex actions even when they don’t expect to have their memory tested or rewarded. In other words, like us, they just remember things just because.
To test this theory, researchers used the “Do as I Do” method: A trainer performs an action, then gives the dog a verbal command, such as “Do it!” to copy the action to train a group of dogs to imitate human actions, such as lying down. Then the trainers complete a new round of training in which the dogs were trained to lie down after watching the humans do any type of action (not the “Do as I Do” method). Once the dogs were trained to lie down via this alternate method, researchers called out "Do it!"—and the dogs still lied down, “even though they had no particular reason to think they’d need to remember.”
The dogs' memories faded over time, but doesn’t that happen to us, too?
5. Young male whale sharks are homebodies.
For most of us, the thinking about sharks conjures up terrifying scenes from Jaws or "Shark Week" specials.
But last month, an extensive decade-long photo study which tracked more than 1,000 whale sharks (the largest in the sea) revealed that teenage whale sharks don’t like to venture too far from home. Most of the photographs showed that male juveniles migrated regionally and not across oceans as originally believed. In fact, "many of them returned multiple times to Ningaloo,” their home feeding grounds. (The researchers noted that adult females and males were rarely sighted there.)
Maybe these sharks are like the 37 percent of Americans who have never left their hometowns, according to a 2008 Pew Study. Or maybe they simply lack the life experience to take the plunge into undiscovered waters. According to the same Pew study, "College education is a key marker of the likelihood [for people] to move,” with more than 75 percent of college graduates having changed communities at least once, compared to about 50 percent of those with high-school diplomas or less.
It's clear that these young sharks feel the same way as we do: There’s no place like home. Sharks have been around for 450 million years, even before dinosaurs. Come to think of it, wolves (the ancestors of domesticated dogs), rats, and horses are all older species than humans, which makes me wonder: Are animals acting like humans, or are we acting like them? It’s a question I ponder often as I make an effort to consume less meat. I’m not a meat-eater shamers or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson but to me, these studies provide further food for thought on how we justify the treatment of our fellow species in the animal kingdom.