Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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20-Jun-2003

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Animal nannies and neighbors



Young carrion crows of northern Spain. By helping their relatives, the entire family has a better chance to survive. Courtesy of Vittorio Baglione. Click here for a larger picture.

For wild animals, selfishness is often the ticket to survival. But some animals help each other, even when it's not clear what the payoff is. Certain crows, for example, work as unpaid babysitters, helping to raise baby crows that aren't their own. Why bother?



Orange male side-blotched lizard. It will cooperate with its yellow and blue-throated friends to attract femals. Courtesy of Barry Sinervo. Click here for a larger picture.

If animals help out their close relatives, their families may have a better chance of surviving and producing future generations. In a study in the 20 June 2003 issue of the journal Science, scientists did genetic tests on the crow parents and the crow babysitters. They found that the crows chose to cooperate specifically with their relatives.



This is the inner coast range of coastal California. It is the site where one of the studies took place. Courtesy of Barry Sinervo. Click here for a larger picture.

But animal cooperation may not just be a family thing. For male side-blotched lizards, it may have more to do with getting attention from lady lizards. These lizards belong to three different categories, which share a common throat color (orange, yellow, or blue) and a common method for courting and mating with females.

While the lizards in one category have some genetic similarities, they aren't necessarily related. In a second Science study, researchers found that different group members either lived near each other or avoided each other, cooperating in a way that suited each other's mating strategies.

Another important question has been whether animals helpers just cooperate with others that happen to be nearby, but the crows and lizards in these two studies seem to be more choosy than that.

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