Animal Business

The April, 2005 edition of Scientific American has an interesting article about the business practices of animals by Frans B. M. de Waal of Emory University.

Animals exhibit economic tendencies, doing favors for each other when it's beneficial, repaying favors, and getting angry over sour deals.

A few examples:

  • Female baboons love looking at baby baboons, but mothers are protective. Only by offerring grooming to the mother can the other female get a look and possibly a chance to touch the baby. If there are few babies around, the grooming usually has to last longer to be rewarded.
  • A fish called the cleaner wrass is known for eating parasites off of other fish. The cleaner wrass usually has a spot it hangs out in, and larger fish stop by for a cleaning. If things are busy, a line will form outside the cleaner wrasse's "station". De Waal notes two varieties of clients, residents and roamers. Resident fish stay in the area and always use the same cleaner wrass, whereas roamers come from abroad and have several cleaner wrasses to choose from. The cleaner wrass will often treat the roamers more quickly, even if a resident arrived for service first, since the resident doesn't have a choice of which cleaner to use.
  • Capuchin monkeys can be taught to trade pebbles for pieces of cucumber. They use it as a currency. But if the trainer starts giving one monkey a grape for the pebble and keeps giving the other monkey a cucumber, the one getting the cucumber will get upset. Grapes are a better deal than cucumbers and the short-changed monkey will withold his pebbles or throw them or throw the cucumbers in the face of this bad deal.