Humans and other species

We like to think of ourselves as the most highly-evolved species on the planet. We believe that we are more intelligent than all of the other species and that we are in some way the apex of evolution - as if all of the changes in life forms over the millennia have led to humans. It makes sense that we would think of ourselves in such a manner. Not very many other species have such a high degree of self awareness. There are plenty of creatures that don’t recognize themselves in a mirror. They don’t have the same highly-developed sense of self identity as we. It may be that there are other observations that justify our conclusions about ourselves. Examinations of humans reveal traces of our genetic and evolutionary heritage. We share traits in common with other species. Our story isn’t quite as simple as was argued in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial decided back in 1925 in Tennessee. That trial was part of what made Clarence Darrow famous and became the dominant story in the life and career of John Thomas Scopes who was a young high school science teacher accused and convicted of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity. And Mr. Scopes never had to pay the $100 fine because the verdict was subsequently overturned on a technicality. The trial set the stage of an on-going controversy in which fundamentalists argue that their interpretation of the Bible takes priority over human arguments and modernists who claim that evolution is not inconsistent with religion.

It seems to me that some of these arguments provide a bit of evidence that we may not be quite as highly evolved as we think. There are some aspects of human thought and action that demonstrate quite clearly, in my opinion, that we humans still have a whole lot to learn.

It is impossible for us to fully know what animals think or even how they think, but we like to attribute human feelings and sensations to animals. My sister is visiting us this week and she brought her dog with her. Cody is the dog’s name, and Cody is a very intelligent dog. From the first time I met the dog, I have been attracted to him. He seems to have such a pleasant personality. Or do you call it a “dog-ality”? Anyway, there has been a connection between me and the dog from the beginning. I’m always glad to see him and he seems glad to see me. I don’t know how much memory a dog possesses, but it certainly seems like he remembers me though we see each other only a couple of times each year. He has visited in our home two or three times, but when I got home last evening, he greeted me warmly and he seemed perfectly at home as we sat talking in the living room.

I choose to think that he remembers me and that we are friends.

I have a more distant relationship with the deer that wander through our yard. There are a few of them that I can identify as individuals. I can keep track of the fawns for most of the summer of their birth, but at this time of the year they have changed enough that they seem to blend in with the other animals and I’m not always sure which one is which. There are a few who have distinctive injuries or markings that are easy for me to identify and there is one doe who has had fawns in your yard at least three years. But for the most part the deer are just deer to me. It makes me wonder how much they distinguish one another. Does a doe recognize a three year old as the fawn she bore years ago? Do the bucks remember individual does from year to year?

The turkeys, on the other hand, don’t seem to have much individual personality at all. They don’t appear to have much intelligence. They repeat actions and are creatures of habit, but they can’t figure out which way to run when threatened. They fall off of the porch railing. They just don’t seem to be very bright. If you take a look at the small head on the top of the big bird, you can easily come to the conclusion that there can’t be much brain in that tiny space.

I listened to a radio program about horseshoe crabs recently. Their name is a misnomer since they don’t look like horseshoes and they aren’t true crabs, but rather brackish water arthropods. They have blood that is bright blue instead of red, due to the high copper content in their blood. That blood is drawn and used to test a large number of medicines and medical equipment that are a part of our health care system. The crabs are not killed in the process and although some do not survive, the majority are returned to their watery homes following the procedure. Horseshoe crabs have been around for thousands upon thousands of years. They survived the events that ended the reign of dinosaurs and have continued to be the same species surviving through a lot of changes in the planet. A single horseshoe crab can produce as many as 100,000 offspring in a single year. The survival rates of individual eggs and larvae are very low. They are a seasonal food item of a variety of invertebrates and finish. But enough survive to propagate the species.

We humans have a different approach, reproducing one at at time, with an occasional set of twins or other multiple births. Reproducing much more slowly, we have a higher survival rate among our progeny. We like to think of ourselves as much more advanced than the horseshoe crabs, but their species thrived long before humans appeared on the planet and will likely survive and thrive long after there are no more humans on earth.

Perhaps we are less the pinnacle of evolution as fellow species sharing the same planet. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t unique. After all, I know of no other species that rises in the morning to write in their journal. The dog Cody is napping while I’m sitting at the computer. He may be the smarter of the two of us, but most observers can tell us apart.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!