"Play is all about fun; what’s there to study?"
March 2, 2015 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Worth the read just to learn about the fact that herbivorous species "play" through evasion-oriented activities rather than through predation-oriented activities.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:27 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Worth the read just to learn about axolotls riding bubbles. Whee!
posted by Lexica at 6:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

"When picturing animals at play, you probably think of frolicking otters or wrestling tiger cubs--not arachnids aligning their copulatory organs. But University of Pittsburgh researcher Jonathan Pruitt believes that pretend sex between Anelosimus studiosus spiders is a form of play."
posted by dhruva at 6:36 PM on March 2, 2015

A lot of play behaviors seem like side effects of various drives that have more obvious evolutionary purposes. A dog likes chasing things because liking to chase things means it eats; chasing a bicycle or another dog scratches the same psychological itch, and since it isn't selected against, the behavior sticks around. Like essentially the same reason that we find other species young cute and the same reason that we masturbate.
posted by bracems at 6:52 PM on March 2, 2015

At times the wrestling between frogs, for example, can resemble play behavior, and several aquatic salamander species have been observed “bubble riding.” This peculiar behavior is when a salamander repeatedly swims over top of an air pump in the tank and rides the bubbles upwards.

It's an excerpt from Gussie Fink-Nottle's notebook.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:54 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

What ho, Gussie!
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Great essay from a non-professional, I'd love to hear to biologists with the relevant specialities/animal behaviorists weighing in.

I guess it comes down to the "evolutionary weight" play assumes -which then brings in the question of animals like sea turtles, that are primarily solitary and have no parenting or kinship groups. Do they still play? I.e. how much of play is learned? Fascinating stuff.
posted by smoke at 2:09 AM on March 3, 2015

There's some debate about whether mice running on wheels counts as playing, or is an abnormal/stressed behaviour that you'd only see when they're confined. This is important, both from an animal welfare perspective and because voluntary running wheel activity is an increasingly popular measure of disease progression in mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases like ALS/Lou Gherig's. If it's a weird stress response, then all that data becomes suspect.

Happily, someone has started trying to settle the question, and it really does seem that mice (and other animals) just really like running on wheels:
Meijer and Robbers decided to carry out a very simple experiment—they set up a running wheel in their backyard, then used an infrared camera to capture on tape how animals in the wild would respond.

...a lot of animals found the wheel, climbed on and began running on it. Granted, most of the animals were mice, but the camera also caught frogs, rats, shrews and even slugs. The frogs didn't actually run, they simple hopped form one side to the other causing the wheel to roll back and forth, and the slugs appeared to arrive on the wheel by accident.

...In all the team recorded over 200,000 animals using one or the other of the wheels over a three year period. The main runners were mice, some of which jumped on, ran for a while, jumped off, then jumped back on and ran some more. One mouse ran for an incredible 18 minutes.
The original paper reports that the running activity of wild mice who just happened to find the wheel while out doing their mousy thing was very similar to that of mice living in a cage with a wheel, and cites evidence that mice given the chance to run on wheels seem happier and healthier by all sorts of different measures.
posted by metaBugs at 4:28 AM on March 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

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