2001-Tue Apr 25 20:32:13 EDT 2017
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Sunday marks 101 years since the Mexican Revolution, but if you think humans are the only species capable of banding together to bring about change through a mass uprising, think again. Throughout the world, humans are moving in where animals used to live. If you’ve ever had a deer demolish your landscaping, you know animals often find a way to protest our land grabs. But here’s a scarier scenario: Some of them may even be capable of figuring out that the only way to get their country back is to join forces and revolt.
I wasn't suprised when I read about certain creatures quietly practicing raids in places where no one’s around to fight back. In September, it was reported that coyotes had taken over a home in Glendale, Calif., that was abandoned following a fire. In Chicago, gangs of raccoons have moved into empty, foreclosed homes.
To save ourselves, we need to be informed about these potential four-legged revolutionaries! Thankfully for us, some species that may seem threatening have critical character flaws. Wolves, for instance, aren’t more dangerous in groups because they are basically lazy freeloaders. No matter how large the pack, only four members do the work when hunting. The rest just hang around until the prey is fatally wounded and then dig in for dinner.
No, the most likely rebel soldiers in the animal kingdom aren't big, scary carnivores, but creatures you may never think to fear.
Pigs. Wild boars in Europe frequently rampage through the streets and smash their way into homes, shops and even churches and cemeteries. But this isn’t just random violence: Pigs possess organization and stealth. They follow the leadership of an experienced sow, and when they raid cornfields, they leave the outer edges of the field intact to conceal their thievery. They’ve even learned to hide at the sound of a car door slamming. And considering how many of their cousins we've eaten, they are no doubt out for revenge.
Birds. Our feathered friends are also capable of being sneaky fomenters. Crows bear a grudge for so long that they actually raise their children to be revolutionaries. One study showed that a crow could recognize the face of someone who bothered it three years earlier — and taught comrades and offspring about that person. Word to the wise: Even crows who were too young to have been alive at the time of the initial human transgression knew exactly who the bad guy was.
Not only do birds have the advantage of launching surprise assaults from the air, but experiments have shown that crows can delay gratification: They were able to hold onto a piece of food without eating it for up to five minutes if they knew that they’d get to swap it for something better. This is the precise type of long-term planning ability that’s essential for a successful revolution.
Of course, the best way to plot an overthrow is from within — and there are two species that are already gathering rebel armies under our very noses.
Ants. Societies of ants have a military structure, with hundreds of workers who take orders without question from the colony’s queen. Research has revealed that colonies of the odorous house ant are much bigger in cities than in forests: In urban areas, they’re living in supercolonies with more than 6 million workers and 50,000 queens.
Plus, their physical abilities can put the Marines to shame — these tiny creatures can lift several times their own weight. Ants also possess chemical weapons — they can spray or inject acid into an adversary — and they're expert suicide bombers. When an intruder gets close, one kind of carpenter ant is able to explode, releasing a sticky, yellow gunk that kills both of them.
It's also worth noting that ants know how to wage war. They attack and take over other colonies, killing all the adults and even enslaving the young in some cases. And here’s what makes their war waging especially chilling: There are slave rebellions. Sometimes young ants grow up to murder the very pupae in their care.
Still, if we’re going to worry about threats in our midst, let’s not neglect the closest one. There are many households where the dog already seems to be in charge. And canines know how to scheme behind our backs: One study found that if you present dogs with two containers of food (one with a bell on it) and look away, they know to take the food from the container without the bell.
The reality is that we may be setting up our own downfall. Those dog park gatherings seem innocent, but while you’re chatting with the other humans, your pets might just be plotting the next doggie revolution.
Linda Lombardi is a former zookeeper, college professor, and the author of Animals Behaving Badly, a new book which grew from her blog of the same name.
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