How can so many types of normally nonsocial animals form social bonds with humans?


Is this just projection? Does your pet snake actually like you?

In: Biology

Because we take caretaking roles with them, they see us as parents, or at least as providers of food, which overrides their antisocial tendencies.

A lot of those animals aren’t inherently antisocial, either. They’re smart enough to recognize the general fact that you are a source of food and comfort. That’s plenty incentive to be nice to you. And a lot of animals have a sense of territory. You could just be identified as part of their territory.

Also we anthropomorphize their behavior. Meaning we interpret their behavior from the POV of a human. But the reasons for their behavior and what that behavior means may be totally different. So we may see what they do as “social” but the truth is it isn’t. I like the shade of a tree, but my behavior doesn’t mean I an socializing with the tree or see the tree as a social equal. Maybe I don’t even understand that the shade comes from the tree. So you’d be surprised if I cut the tree down later, but that’s because you expect me to have normal human reasoning and know the shade comes from the tree.

For the most part, it’s tolerance rather than a social bond. These animals recognize that you’re not a threat or competition and you provide food and shelter and as a result, they don’t behave aggressively or scared around you.

The difference between tolerance and actual affection is that it can end really quickly when you do something to overstep those bounds and the animal stops feeling like you’re not a threat.

For example, the reason we managed to co-habit with wolves so well is that we have very similar social and communication frameworks. Wolves understand cooperative, hierarchical social structures and they’re very capable of reading our body language and learning commands.

The difference between wolves and dogs is that dogs have been selectively bred to crave our approval while wolves are far more individualistic and really don’t care about your approval.

That’s why wolves and wolfdogs are considerably more dangerous than dogs. You can get along with them for years but you can overstep their boundaries without even realising it and they’ll snap at you.

Or if you prefer a simpler example. My uncle was an expert in reptiles and often worked as an advisor to zoos. He worked with large animals like crocodiles, dangerous animals like venomous snakes. The only time he ever got hurt was working with monitor lizards.

He’d cared for these lizards for years, they were perfectly docile around him most of the time. Until one day he made the mistake of bending over to pick something up while he was in between a lizard and a raw bucket of chicken. The lizards saw him as competition for the food, attacked and shredded my uncle’s back to the tune of several hundred stitches.