cover image The Social Lives of Animals

The Social Lives of Animals

Ashley Ward. Basic, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-541-60083-6

Studying animals’ social behaviors can provide the “master key” to a better understanding of human society and relationships, according to this quirky survey. Animal behavior researcher Ward (Animal Societies) surveys a complex wild world in which animals lead social lives based on cooperation: they form groups, communicate through specialized vocalizations (coda, a communication method based on clicks for whales, the “signature whistle” for dolphins), and even perform acts of kindness. Living in groups rather than alone, he notes, also comes with crucial benefits for the creatures, namely protection, food, knowledge sharing, and a higher chance of survival. Ward dedicates sections to the “first-class escapologists,” Antarctic krills, which are harder to catch because they swarm; blind termites, who build intricate 30-foot-tall shelters for their colony; lions, who have been known to adopt the orphaned young of their prey; and orcas, who often bring food to disabled members of their pod. Ward spotlights some more maligned creatures, too, positioning rats and hyenas as adaptable and intelligent animals that have lessons to share about adaptation and problem-solving. Ward’s enthusiasm keeps things moving, and his account is well researched and fascinating as he covers locust swarms, infanticide in chimpanzees, and humbug fish harems. This is catnip for animal enthusiasts. (Mar.)