At the barn, I'm the first person out and around after a fresh snowfall (we were spared and only got about 4 inches rather than the larger amount that was predicted), and one of the things I enjoy about this is seeing the animal tracks.
I noticed something interesting about some skunk tracks this morning - they wandered all over the place - there were no straight lines at all. I wonder if skunks walk this way because they're omnivores, always on the lookout for a choice morsel. Chickens also don't spend a lot of time going somewhere in a straight line - they move and peck in what looks like almost a random pattern. Herbivores also don't walk in straight lines while they're grazing or browsing; they move from mouthful to mouthful, although they're capable of straight-line movement when they want to go somewhere specific. Horses, as prey animals, also have the speed thing down, as well as the predator-avoiding sideways spook and the sudden spin-and-bolt (as many of us have found out the hard way). The small prey animals, mice and voles, often have tracks that go straight and then veer away - I expect to quickly cover open spaces and take advantage of cover.
It seems to be the predators of the world that walk in straighter lines, more of the time. If you're a predator who hunts by sight, this would make sense - you'd be scanning for food and would only vary your course when an opportunity presented itself. Scent hunters, like some dogs, do weave all over but that's due to the scent of what they're following. We have coyotes, and I've always been interested in how different their tracks are from those of domestic dogs. Coyote tracks look almost as though they're stepping in their own prints, so the trail is very narrow and straight - not the wide stance where you can see the feet from two separate sides of the animal as in most domestic dogs.
I wonder if anyone has looked at this in a systematic way.
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Shannon of A Work In Progress . . . left an interesting comment on yesterday's post about brain function - she's actually a neurobiologist, and I'll take the liberty of quoting from her comment:
The amygdala is primarily involved with fear conditioning and memory formation. Damage to the amygdala is associated with a loss of fear and an inability to react to social cues appropriately. Individuals with a loss of amygdala function can show increased aggression, but it is because they have lost fear of the social consequences of aggression or because they could not accurately gauge the intent of the other individual (they think the other individual is acting aggressively towards them or otherwise threatening them). These individuals find it difficult to recognize the social intent of others, they cannot tell if another individual is mad, happy or sad. Over-activation of the amygdala results in anxiety disorders and paranoia, which can also lead to aggressive behavior.
Although we may never really know for sure, a lot of Miranda's behaviors, both with people and horses, seems to show signs of inability to read the intentions of others - she reads threat into simple touch or glance, and does not seem able to understand the social cues of other horses (and they seem to know it - some of our horses seem spooked by her and others ignore her completely as if she doesn't exist).