A couple of incidents in my life coincided to make me ponder this question—do animals tell each other stories? If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you know that I’m fascinated by the power of Story and I explore it in a variety of aspects and invite you to consider the impact it has in our lives.
I love animals, in general, and find them very interesting but there’s no denying they can be dangerous and sometimes downright scary. We usually regard them as being less intelligent than humans and rarely think of them behaving in terms of organizing or using covert means to gain their objectives. But are there reasons to believe they might be capable of such conduct?
Feeling the bite
Some weeks ago, my husband and I were loading up the car for a road trip and as I came down the porch steps with my arms full, a sharp and sudden pain shot up from my bare calf. A yellowjacket clung to my leg, one end of it biting while the other end stabbed its stinger into me, injecting a stream of venom. I flicked the stinger out, cleaned the area and applied lavender oil and ice and we continued on our way. That sucker hurt and throbbed for several hours.
After a few days, the wound seemed to be going away and I forgot about it until it flared into a burning red mass that lasted for weeks and my entire lower leg swelled to double the size. Instead of getting better, it was getting worse, and the number of yellowjackets buzzing around our yard had increased. It was time to go to battle.
During the skirmishes that followed, it was not hard to imagine the insects gathering in their nest to discuss strategy and lay out a plan of attack. With an imagination like mine, the picture was all too clear!
Revisiting the Zoo
Years ago, when James Patterson’s book, Zoo, was released I rushed to read it. So when I saw that it had been adapted into a TV series on Netflix, I added it to my watch list. About the time I was laid up with ice on my swollen calf, I decided to watch the pilot and I was hooked.
It fed right into my wild imaginings about the insects that had laid siege to my house. The show made reference to evidence of animals such as Grizzly bears taking measures to cover their tracks and wolves splitting open the belly of a kill to roll in the entrails in order to disguise their scent.
Sounds more like a chiller/thriller than reality, yet there are documented instances of such things.
The natural order
Of course, in nature, animals don’t really have evil intent toward humans. They act on survival instinct, and woe to any human that gets in the way of that. Mostly, I like to think of communication in the animal kingdom as being beneficial. Ants working together to feed the colony so they can do whatever it is they do to maintain the natural order. Bees doing their complicated dance to pass on information about food sources and predators, chimps using sign language with their handlers to express their desires.
I recently read about orca whales off the coast of Argentina who adopted a unique tactic of beaching themselves to catch seals. This behavior had not been observed elsewhere until 1983, when the South American pod mingled with a smaller South African pod in the southern Atlantic, and when the pods separated, some of the orcas had switched pods. When the African whales returned to their own beach they immediately started using the new technique to catch seals. Not just the whales from Argentina, but the whole pod, from day one. As if they’d been told about it during their whale convention.
Storytelling—it only makes sense
Considering how powerful Story is to our learning and survival, I have no doubt that animals can communicate between themselves by telling stories, of a sort. Just thinking about this is spawning all kinds of story ideas in my head, and maybe you’ll see them come forth in a future book.
In the meantime, what do you think about the possibility? Do animals tell stories? Have an experience to share with us about it? Tell us in the comments.