Animal Fun Looks a Lot Like Human Fun: Games of Catch and Spa Visits

By Boonsri Dickinson | May 13, 2009 12:45 pm

A recent survey of the animal kingdom has found that, like humans, animals just wanna have fun.

To anyone who’s ever spent time with a dog, it may seem obvious that animals can enjoy play for the sake of it—though this hasn’t been so well documented in the scientific realm. Jonathan Balcombe, a research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has now gathered a list of ways that animals get pointless pleasure, and published it in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. A few examples:

  1. Herring gulls play “drop-catch,” tossing around clams and other small, hard objects.
  2. Hippos go to the spa. When a hippo wants to unwind at the freshwater springs, they relax with their legs spread out and mouth wide open, and let the surrounding fish suck off parasites, flaky skin, fungus, and other blemishes. Sometimes they get so relaxed that they fall asleep.
  3. Dolphins use vibrators. They’ve been caught making low-pitched buzzing clicks near each others’ private areas, and researchers say it seems to be an enjoyable experience.
  4. Certain birds have been caught masturbating, while goats, hyenas, primates, bats, and sheep appear to engage in oral sex.

In order to have fun, animals must have a brain that can process the pleasure. Some aren’t so lucky: Sponges and jellyfish aren’t conscious enough to really know what fun is.

MORE ABOUT: animals, mating, sex
  • Shawn Charland

    Check out “Baboon Methaphysics” for a REALLY interesting scientific treatment of just how similar we are to animals. Seems like different species are shadowy patchwork versions of each other. We just happen to have a trump card for talking with each other about all the rest. Best line in the book: After 10 years of in-situ study, the main problems in a baboon’s life can be summarized in two words: ‘other baboons’.

    I’d say that about sums it up humans too.

    Good article Boonsri, keep going.

  • Pingback: Weird Science Roundup: Scared Elephants, Pet Hippos and a Bug-Hating GOP | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • Pingback: Dolphins “Play Ball” With Jellyfish (As in, Jellyfish Is the Ball) | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • gooshgooshgoosh

    Woah woah woah… someone has to stand up for the sponges and jellyfish. “Fun” is an opinion word. Have you ever considered that perhaps jellyfish and sponges have evolved to a point where they’ve discarded unnecessary acts of their reproductive systems? Maybe they consider masturbation to be terribly painful. Jellyfish would perhaps sting themselves trying, or they’d scratch their bells up by rubbing up on coral (which is the only option for a sponge). Not like a dildo washes by all the time on the way to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Jellies got other shit to do than masturbate, like bother Australians.


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