Tag Archives: animals

Do Animals Work Out?

Illustration: Chelsea Beck (Gizmodo)
Giz AsksIn this Gizmodo series, we ask questions about everything from space to butts and get answers from a variety of experts.  

Of the many downsides to being a human being—as opposed to, say, a squirrel, or some kind of fantastically plumed bird—exercise is one of the more egregious. Awareness of mortality is bad enough—do we really have to jog, on top of that? Still, animals are like us in so many ways that it’s worth wondering whether they subject themselves to this bizarre ritual as well. For this week’s Giz Asks, we reached out to a number of animal behavior experts to find out.

Lindsay Mehrkam

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Human-Animal Wellness Collaboratory (HAWC) at Monmouth University

Whether animals “work out” is a question that has only just been posed in recent years by scientists. If we are simply defining “working out” as engaging in physical activity that increases an individual’s fitness, then yes, animals definitely do this. Many animal species—by engaging in certain species-typical behaviors—can signal to a potential mate their fitness and ability to produce viable offspring. There is also much evidence in behavioral ecology research that animals adjust their food intake based on whether there is high predation risk.

But do animals have the same intentions as we do when we work out? The question about whether the individual engages in activity specifically for the purpose of preparing for “high stakes” events, like evading a predator or showing off to a mate, is more difficult to test scientifically. Whether the individual animal is aware of the evolutionary consequences or lifetime benefits of these active behaviors is another empirical question we can ask. But regardless, it is clear that there is at least a correlation between activity and fitness or reproductive success.

That being said, we have reason to believe that engaging in these sorts of behaviors often just “feels good” and are reinforcing to an animal. Similarly, working out can feel good to us (well, most of the time anyway).

There’s even some recent theories and scientific data out there to suggest that the pacing seen in zoo animals might correlate to welfare in a less than obvious way. There are many hypotheses about why animals pace. Though often associated with boredom or stress (and thus, negative welfare), it’s been suggested that species that have naturally large home ranges (like tigers, bears, and wolves) may actually be pacing in order to adapt to life in captivity and to ensure they are still getting the exercise in a relatively smaller space. So, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes “working out” may not look like what we expect it to!

The value of physical activity to an animal is also seen in the fact that lethargic behavior or lower levels of diversity of species-typical behaviors overall is typically a cause for concern. Certainly, some species may not appear to need as much activity as much as others (consider relatively slow-metabolizing species like Galapagos tortoises, African lions that naturally sleep on average 16 hours each day, or bullfrogs who are ambush predators and owe much of their adaptive success in catching prey to being able to sit still and wait for long periods of time). So, while we just need to keep in mind that what constitutes a “lethargic” animal depends on the species we are talking about, a lack of activity levels below what is normal for that species overall is something we can often interpret as being a concern.

So, do animals “work out”? We certainly need more research on the matter; it’s a topic worth exploring. While the answer likely depends on the individual animal and what opportunities their environment affords, but it is clear that, just like us, engaging in physical activity and species-typical behaviors—whatever your species—is important to maintaining good animal physical and psychological health and welfare.

Sergio Pellis

Professor and Board of Governors Research Chair, Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge

At younger stages of life, especially in the juvenile period (the age between becoming independent feeders and becoming sexually mature), many animals engage in excess behavior, often recognized as play. Among other things, such play provides the opportunity to get fitter and improve motor coordination (this has been shown in several species of mammals, including humans).

Such playful activity diminishes with age, when fully independent. Typically, adult animals gain their exercise from their day-to-day activities, mostly in their foraging activities. We get a sense of this from captive animals in two ways.

First, consider large captive carnivores (most strikingly seen in polar bears), which spend a lot of their day walking back and forth in their cages. The larger the home range traversed daily in the wild, the more intense these stereotypic movements (hence the exaggerated pacing in captive polar bears).

Second, consider a mouse or hamster in a cage, with food and water freely available. It could just sit there and eat when it wants, but put a running wheel in the cage and it will run incessantly for hours at a time.

Both cases show that animals maintain their mental and physical health by some amount of daily exercise, and when this is missing from the daily routine provided by living in the wild, animals will compensate to achieve that level of activity.

In some cases, even in the wild, animals will engage in activities that may maintain their prowess in important activities such as foraging skills. For example, adult long-tailed macaques engage in stone handling that simulates the actions they perform when foraging (e.g., breaking into nuts). This may help maintain their skilled actions and provide therapeutic stress relief.

So, the bottom-line is that while exercise in animals hasn’t been directly studied, there is considerable circumstantial evidence that some species can supplement their activity level to maintain them in peak physical and mental health.

Daniel T. Blumstein

Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Los Angeles

Many species of animals play and play works out both the muscles and mind. If you’ve ever been to a dog park you know that dogs play, but so do many other wild species. In many species, play is restricted to young animals. In predators, play provides necessary practice for later hunting, and in prey, play provides a safe place to learn to escape. Play also provides a low cost way to sort out later dominance relationships—as I’ve shown in my studies of yellow-bellied marmots. What’s fascinating is that play fighting clearly isn’t real fighting—animals switch roles of dominant and subordinate and in many species, like dogs and their relatives, there are specific play faces and signals that have evolved to ensure that everyone knows that the rough behavior is really play. Some species play with objects to improve later manipulation skills. And studies of rodents shows that those that play more have greater brain development. Play is so important for normal development that it takes a lot to deprive an animal of play and play deprived animals are a mess. Play looks fun, and likely is fun for those playing.

James Hanken

Professor, Zoology, Harvard University

The best examples I know of this phenomenon come from young birds and mammals. They don’t exercise or practice to get in shape as much as to develop and hone complex behaviors that are critical for survival. Fledgling birds, for example, can be pretty clumsy fliers during their first few attempts but typically get better each time they try. Likewise, juvenile carnivores, e.g., young lions, will “practice” catching prey even though their still being fed primarily by their parents.

Fred Harrington

Professor Emeritus, Behavioural Ecology, Mt. St. Vincent University, whose primary study species are wolves, coyotes, caribou and black bears

Do animals intentionally “work out”? Of course: it’s called life. Whatever members of a species typically do to survive and reproduce should be sufficient to keep them physically fit, without the necessity to set aside time and energy over and above what they expend just getting through their day. Natural selection has shaped their bodies, their physiology, and their behavior for whatever they must do, whether it’s capturing prey, avoiding becoming a meal, competing for a mate, protecting young, and so on. A wolf might travel 10 to 20 kilometers or more during a day, searching for and perhaps chasing several prey, and even if unsuccessful, it’s better to spend its time actively hunting rather than doing laps or interval training with no prospect of payoff.

Of course, that’s not to say that experience is not without its benefits, and early experience for a lot of species involves play. Wolf pups stalk, ambush, chase, pounce and wrestle as they play-fight with their litter mates. Although one can argue that these various behaviors are innate, simply part of the genetic disposition that makes wolves wolves, most complex behavior patterns benefit from practice. In this way, the crude and clumsy actions of pups give way to the more refined and economical behavior of adults. Thus in one sense, play can be viewed as a “workout” that leads to better fighting and hunting skills. But those outcomes are not the intentions of the pups. They simply intend to have fun.

On that note, if we switch to the human animal, we find a species in which play plays a dominant role in everyday life, especially for kids, and although play does lead to the honing of a variety of physical (and mental) skills, it’s the prospect of having fun that keeps both kids and adults playing. Take away the fun, and we soon stop. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors likely had little need for the “work out.” Their daily activities kept them strong enough, fast enough, quick enough and smart enough to get through life. Play as children helped hone the skills needed as adults, and using those skills as adults kept them sharp. And using those skills, whether it be tracking, pursuit, spearing, etc., was likely never viewed as “work.” It was fun. “Work” and the “workout” were later inventions.

Meredith Lutz

Graduate Student, Animal Behavior, UC Davis, whose research focuses on social behavior in primates, among other things

In my time watching lemurs (primates from Madagascar) in the wild, I’ve never seen anyone “exercising” as humans would. Everyday, wild animals spend the vast majority of their day trying to find enough food and avoid getting eaten by their predators, so there is not much time to engage in exercise like humans do.

While they may not work out intentionally, they do have ways to gain skills—both physical skills but also mental and emotional coping skills. In fact, one of the main hypothesized reasons that animals play is to gain these skills, to allow them to deal with unexpected circumstances—things like chasing down a prey animal or fighting with another animal. We have found consistent support for this hypothesis in a variety of primate species from all over the world, including capuchin monkeys, hamadryas baboons, and diademed sifaka. While most of this play is when animals are young, we’ve noticed many of the sifaka that we study continuing to play into their adult lives. In early life, a lot of their play is jumping, running, and moving around, so may provide a lot of physical training. In their adult life, almost all of the play we observe is social, which serves to “exercise” their social skills and relationships.

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Source: Kotaku.com

New Board Game Challenges Players to Design a Perfect Planet

This is how you prepare to PLAY.
Photo: Blue Orange Games

A new award-winning board game asks you to do a seemingly simple task: build the perfect planet for wildlife.

Planet, a board game by Blue Orange Games that dropped on Earth Day, is a fast-paced, beautifully designed, kid-friendly game that everyone, regardless of whether they are an environmentalist, can appreciate. It challenges players to build their own planets for whatever animals chance has laid out for them. Collect enough animals, and you just may win. The game requires players to be mindful of what sort of habitat is necessary to support a wide range of creatures—and in that way, it offers a lesson that couldn’t come at a better time, given our planet’s ongoing ecological crisis.

Such a pretty box.
Photo: Blue Orange Games

While new species—from deep sea corals to whales—are still being discovered, we’re losing a whole lot of species, too. In fact, dozens may be going extinct every day, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The main culprit is habitat loss. Planet may take place on fantasy worlds, but it reminds us that we, ultimately, have the power to shape habitats all life depends on.

That’s part of the point, said Urtis Sulinskas, who designed the game, in an email to Earther. Players can learn about “the beauty and diversity of the living species that are living on planet Earth” and “the importance of creating and preserving natural environments,” he wrote.

Here’s how you play: Up to four people receive a 3D planet they can stick landscape tiles onto via magnets. These tiles include desert, grass, ice, ocean, and mountain areas. Each turn, the players pick one of these tiles and, starting by the third turn, they can select animal tiles too. But you need to have the right habitats in place in order to do so, and every animal has its own requirements. For instance, the penguin needs its planet to be mostly ice, but that ice must touch water. The blue whale needs a planet with five ocean regions. The Fennec fox requires a planet with mostly desert that’s not touching any mountain land.

The players win points based on how many animal cards they grab, plus what type of habitats they accumulate. Having a variety of environments for all the different animals is important. When your globe runs out of space for more of them, you’re finished. The entire gameplay takes about thirty minutes.

“Choosing the right terrain combinations and placing them wisely while observing other players is the key to victory,” Sulinskas said. “However, in the end, there is a pleasant feeling for each player holding their own unique planet, that they have designed.”

The game’s concept is dope as hell. Players may come across animals they don’t recognize among the game’s 45 cards. There were definitely some animals I cocked my head at. My biggest criticism of the game is that the cards don’t include animal names—and I so wish they did. That’d add a new level of education, especially for the younger or less-informed players.

And the habitats for some animals didn’t make all that much sense to me. Like the meerkat needed mostly desert, which, OK, word. It lives in deserts throughout Africa. But the meerkat card also requires that the desert touch ice habitat, and, um, there is not much ice near the real meerkat’s deserts. The tiger card similarly confused me because while all tiger species do live near some type of forest ecosystem, they aren’t typically found near deserts, which the card lists as a requirement.

During the game, though, you’ll probably more focused on selecting the habitat tiles that suit the animals before you than how scientifically accurate each one is. Every player gets a “Natural Habitat Objective Card” that offers points for the amount of habitat you accrue related to the card, but the rewards are comparably small. Animal cards offer the most points, and without them, there’s no way you’re winning.

Before my defeat.
Photo: Yessenia Funes (Gizmodo Media Group)

Like most board games, this one takes some practice. My first two rounds involved a lot of back and forth with my roommates regarding the rules. I didn’t win any rounds initially, but by my second sesh when I played with my boyfriend (this is a two person-friendly game), I had my strategy down to a science, building my largest habitat regions around what the animal cards on the table demanded.

Next on my agenda is to play this game with my nephew. I’m curious how a 9-year-old would respond to its very specific rules, and I wonder how many of these animals he’ll recognize. Most of all, I hope he’ll get a hang of the game’s primary objective: build the planet our animals need.

Because that’s something future generations need to understand.

Source: Kotaku.com

My Journey To Photograph All The Wildlife In The Division 2

I remember the first time I saw a deer run past me in The Division 2. It immediately made the game feel different than the previous The Division. Sure, that game had some dogs in it. But now I could encounter deer. I wondered what else was roaming the streets of D.C.? To find out, I began my journey to photograph every animal in The Division 2. It was harder than I expected.


I can’t tell you what kind of deer this is specifically, but it is certainly a deer. These were relatively easy to photograph. They regularly run around the world, occasionally even running into buildings even.

That image of a deer at the top of this post came from a random encounter. I found a deer stuck on some geometry, at night, next to a spotlight on the ground. It was perfect timing. I snapped a picture and then the deer kept staring at me. It didn’t move or leave. It just stared. I left the area but I don’t know if that deer ever escaped their fate. Maybe I should have shot it?


Everyone loves some good pups. Sadly, it is true that you can’t pet these lovable hounds, but even if you could I don’t know if it would be possible. These dogs are super jumpy. Which is fair. They live in a world where every day hundreds of people shoot guns all the time. I would be jumpy too.

This habit of quickly running away made the process of getting a good picture of a puppy trickier than I expected. I would see them all the time, but they would run the moment I loaded up the photo mode. Sometimes they would run the moment I got them in focus like they knew what I was doing.


Trash pandas, as the internet loves to call them, aren’t nearly as numerous as dogs or deer. These critters are a bit more sneaky. I did notice more of them at night, but that might just be a coincidence. Trying to grab a nice photo of them was difficult because, like dogs, they are very jumpy. But they are also smaller and harder to spot, which makes getting a good photo of them hard.

This is because the photo mode in The Division 2 takes a few too many seconds to open up and the camera is limited how far it can move around the area. So to get this photo, I had to creep up, open photo mode, move the camera as close as it would let me and zoom in. If I wasn’t close enough I had to creep up closer and repeat the process. Eventually, I got a nice photo of a raccoon finding some lunch on top of a trash bin.


Even quicker and jumpier than dogs, these little wild and red pups were hard to spot as I was running around. When I did spot them, I would sometimes spook them just by walking closer to them.

Though I also had to deal with something most wildlife photogs don’t have to deal with: Numerous armed enemies roaming around, shooting the moment they saw me. There were a couple of times where I spotted a fox, walked closer and got my camera ready when suddenly gunfire would start peppering my location. The fox was gone and I had to duck behind cover and kill a dozen armed thugs before I could continue my safari. But after a few frustrating encounters, I took a nice photo of a lovely little fox.

Bald Eagles

Of course, you can find these patriotic birds in The Division 2. They seem to be somewhat rare or at least in my time with the game they don’t pop up often. So it took me some time to finally snap a photo of one of these majestic birds. I hope that as humanity dwindles and kills itself in this wasteland, the eagles and other animals prosper. Take the world back, eagles. It’s your turn after we screwed everything up. Sorry.


I spotted many of these in Dark Zones, which make sense. These zones are filled with lots of dead bodies and decomposing corpses. It must be a wonderful smorgasbord for these ugly birds. But in the Dark Zone it can be difficult to get a good photo, considering all the other players running around and shooting people.

At one point I found a vulture, moved closer to capture a photo of it and then a random player jumped out from behind a building and shot me in the face two-hundred times with an SMG. The vulture flew away and I bled out in the streets as a jerk took all my loot. Later on, I was able to find a vulture in a more quiet area and got a nice picture.


On the one hand, frogs in The Division 2 are fairly easy to find. Most ponds and small bodies of water in the game will have some frogs hanging out in them. The trick is getting a good photo of a frog. You see, in The Division 2 frogs are apparently able to teleport through space and time. This made it hard to snap a good picture of these little amphibians.

I also found frogs sometimes hopping through the ground or nearby logs. I ended up spamming a bunch of captures and found one worth sharing.


I was searching for another animal, who I’ll talk about later, and was having no luck. So frustrated and needing a break, I left my character standing in some water and grabbed a drink. When I returned and sat down, I sipped my lovely cup of tea and noticed something in the water. Or actually, multiple somethings.

There, beneath the surface, were fishes. They look like perch to me, but I’m probably wrong. Like the frogs, these fish have the ability to teleport, but unlike the frogs, they move faster. A lot faster.


I almost missed the goats in The Division 2. They only appear after upgrading The Campus settlement. They can be found in the back corner of the area, near the main entrance. I only found them because I was walking around the camp, looking for something else.

Suddenly, I found a few goats just chilling in a small pen. After snapping a quick photo, I left and re-visited other areas of the map and looked closer. I didn’t want to miss any other animals who might have been overlooked.


Near the goats, I also found a metal pen containing some chickens. Like the goats, I was shocked that I had missed these creatures and almost didn’t include them. Getting a good photo of these little flightless birds was hard. The fence they are surrounded by makes it difficult to get a good and clean photo of them. So, excuse the wire fencing in the image. I did my best.


Look, I know rats aren’t the most exciting or cutest critters in the world but they are still animals and I wanted to capture every animal.

As far as rats in games go, these rats look pretty good. In fact, most of the animals in this game look impressively detailed, considering you rarely get a close look at them.


There are bees in the game. I don’t know what else to tell you about them. I guess I could make a Bee Movie joke. I won’t. But I could have.


Yup, these are flying around the world too. Like frogs and fish, they seem to teleport and disappear randomly. Luckily, nobody cares because they’re just dragonflies.


Go to hell, cats. I don’t understand why cats hate me in The Division 2, but they do. I spent hours looking for cats. Sometimes I would see one, get close, ready my camera and discover it was actually a fox. They are similar sizes in this game and even have similar animations. Eventually, I gave up looking for cats. I figured I would photograph everything else and maybe come back to them.

Then, randomly, while in the middle of a mission and not even looking for any animals, I spotted a small animal near me. I stopped dead in my tracks. I crept up, slowly. I stopped. My heart was racing. I got my camera out and snapped like 20 pictures. I finally had captured the elusive cat. In retrospect, it makes sense that cats would only show up when they wanted to. I’ve owned many cats and this is common cat behavior.


I saw pigeons, but could never get my camera out fast enough to snap a pic. They are so small that I was never able to pick them out from afar. I gave up on pigeons. They look like pigeons.

Ducks might exist in the game. I hear them, I think. I don’t know. Ducks are turning me into a maniac. I spent too much time wading through ponds and pools, looking for ducks and came back with nothing. I never even spotted one. Maybe they don’t exist? I don’t know. I’m moving on with my life.

I was surprised by how many different types of animals I found while exploring The Division 2 and who knows, there might be a few I missed. It wouldn’t surprise me. As I learned with the goats and fish, it can be very easy to overlook or never see animals that are right there, waiting to be photographed.

Source: Kotaku.com

We Need More Games That Let You Play As Animals

Over the last weekend, I finally played some Ape Out. That game has some style. Though as I played it I realized something. Sadly, we don’t seem to get a lot of games anymore that give you control over an animal. That’s a shame, I love these games.

Ape Out lets you rampage around labs, offices and other places as a powerful, angry gorilla. This is a lot of fun and as I am a boring human dude, it also is a great way to experience something I won’t ever get a chance to experience: Being a powerful and deadly monkey. To me, this is one of the best aspects of video games. They let you jump into a world or life and actually get immersed in it. A movie or book can’t really do that. Yet so many games just plop you into the boots of a human and call it day.

Of course Ape Out isn’t the first game to let you play as an animal, but there aren’t that many other titles that let you live as a deadly or fluffy creature.

One animal themed game that I remember playing a lot of as a kid was Jaws Unleashed on the PS2. It isn’t a great game, yet there is something exciting about being a large killer shark and being able to just kill everything. On mobile, Hungry Shark continues this idea with a little less gore. However even as a free-to-play mobile title, being a shark is awesome.

There is the infamously strange Dog’s Life, a game that the developers described Grand Theft Auto with dogs. What that actually translated into was a partially open world game where you played as a dog. As a dog, you can run around, bark and even poop using a specific combo of buttons.

While these weren’t amazing games or classics, they let players experience life as a cute dog or deadly shark, which is honestly more exciting to me than playing as another random dude with swords.

Bigger games have included sections where you control an animal for a brief period of time. Grand Theft Auto V has you control Chop during a mission. Assassin’s Creed Origins lets you control your bird friend briefly to survey the world around you. These moments are nice though they feel more like teases. Ubisoft did release a VR only game called Eagle Flight that lets you soar around Paris as a falcon. I’ve yet to play it. However, it certainly sounds like something up my alley.

Not many bigger studios are creating games where you can fully control an animal, which is disappointing. Imagine something like Jaws Unleashed, now with 4k visuals and a huge open world. I want to play that game. Universal, if you are reading this, I enjoyed that mobile game you just released, except I want something bigger starring your famous shark.

In recent years, smaller teams have filled the void left behind by bigger publishers, creating some games that have let players slip into the mind of an animal.

Depth lets you control a shark who attacks other players who are human scuba divers. Animals make the perfect enemy in an asymmetrical game like Depth. Players already understand what a shark can do plus they already have a fear of them hardwired into their brain.

Catlateral Damage is a very simple game about being a cat who is tasked with knocking stuff over. As someone who has owned cats my entire life, I can confirm this is mostly all cats do. Getting to be a crazy cat who just flings everything around a house is a blast.

Goat Simulator might be one of the most famous games to let you play as an animal. Only I don’t really count this game, which might be controversial.

While you do play as a goat, it actually isn’t trying to emulate being a goat. Would that be a boring game? Sure. So they made the right call, but it doesn’t scratch the same itch as Dog’s Life or Depth or even Ape Out, which is gory and stylish, yet still makes me feel like a powerful gorilla on a rampage. These games that let you play as an animal, but don’t actually let you feel like that animal can still be fun, though they aren’t what I’m looking for.

Looking ahead we have the fantastic looking Untitled Goose Game, which seems to be a perfect recreation of how geese are assholes. There’s also HK Project, working title, which will let you play as a cat in a future world of robots and computers.

So hopefully the future of video game includes more animal adventures. With VR becoming more popular, it certainly seems like a perfect way to get players into the head of their favorite critter.

Source: Kotaku.com