Sunday, July 15, 2007

Survival Strategies

What do you do when the survival strategy you've been using no longer works?

When I watch the various animals out here at the ranch I can clearly see how evolution has shaped their instincts for survival. At the first hint of danger -- whether a lurking puma or a flapping shopping bag -- those things can asphyxiate you if you're not careful! -- horses are built for fear and speed, with fast legs and big hearts. Eternal vigilance and a willingness to flee have served them well, and they're still ever-watchful here.

The donkeys went down a more aggressive path, facing directly into danger, finding safety in numbers not through the sacrifice of the less-fleet but in the power of multiple striking hooves. When the dogs get after them, the donkeys turn and fight.

The sheep, on the other hand, settled on screwing their way out of trouble. Not at the deciding moment, of course, but rather they breed rapidly enough that they could travel in massive flocks. They huddle together for safety, ensuring that only the ones on the outside get eaten. I'm not exactly sure how they decide who gets "Outside the Circle of Trust" duty, but I would guess it involves those poor individuals who insist on chasing an inside straight to the river.

On our ranch we only have four sheep, and yet they cling to their instinctual method of survival even so. Rarely more than a few feet from each other, they still clump into a ball when danger threatens. Of course with only four of them, they fail to realize that they're ALL on the outside of the flock, putting them equally at risk of being dinner.

You can look at their insistence on the old ways as either an honorable and commendable adherence to proven tradition, or as a hopelessly hidebound reliance on a now-irrelevant custom.

So what do you do when the survival strategy you've been depending on no longer works? I'm not sure, personally, but I plan on keeping an eye on those sheep just in case they hit on something new.

1 comment:

sph said...

I find this the most suiting survival mechanism that would be appropriate to many aspects of upright mammal techniques - the Giant Swallowtail(Papilio cresphontes) butterfly caterpillar looks just like bird poop. And it stinks too.

http://melanys.tripod.com/giant.htm