How Animals Train Their Young
ANIMALS train their young? Use discipline? Require obedience? Yes, indeed! Such things play an important role in their lives. Survival is involved.
God-given instinct is the moving force. A limited amount of intelligence also comes into play. If they are to survive, the young need to be taught how to get food; they also need to learn to recognize danger and know how to cope with it. Animal parents do not give reasons to their young or explain why and how to do things. But they do teach by example, and they may inflict pain to help youngsters to stay in line.
Spending Time to Train Their Young
Animal parents spend much time in training their young ones. A she-bear may take up to two years teaching her cubs. She shows them where they can find food, teaching them to dig for spicy tubers. And it is she that introduces them to the tangy sweetness of wild honey, a delicacy that they relish for the rest of their lives.
Young racoons get quite a training in the art of being self-sufficient. Their mother spends time flipping frogs and crayfish to them, using play to teach them. She also instructs them in self-defense, hunting and fishing. In time her young ones learn to trail mice, catch frogs and unearth insect larvae. And she tips them off about where they can find wild grapes and the best corn.
Certain young animals undergo training to do the very things that we may think are instinctive. Consider the water-loving otters. Did you know that mother otter has to teach her young how to swim? In fact, she has to teach them to like water, for they will not go into it of their own accord. How does she do it? She may drag them into the water, pulling them by the skin of their neck. Or she may induce them to get on her back. Then, splash, into the water she goes! For a while she swims around with her litter hanging on for dear life. Suddenly, she submerges! Now the young otters are forced to sink or swim. And they try to swim! At first they are awkward, but little by little they learn.
A mother seal, also, has to take time to teach her little one how to swim. When in the water, she will plead, persuade and entice her pup to try swimming. Usually, she ends up simply pushing him adrift. But her work does not end there. She helps her whelp along by swimming under him at times. Should he appear in distress, she will put her head under his forequarters and push his head up out of the water. After a time, the seal pup is able to swim on his own.
How does a young flying squirrel learn how to glide? His mother simply pushes him off a tree branch. And the youngster seems to know instinctively what to do to break his fall. He spreads out his tiny feet, and the thin membrane on each side connecting his front and back legs forms a sort of parachute enabling him to glide safely to the ground. Instinct indicates to mother flying squirrel when her little one is ready to learn this feat. If she pushed him out of a tree at too young an age, it could be fatal.
As the time nears for young winged birds to learn to fly, they begin exercising to develop their flying muscles. They crane their necks, twitch their wings, twist and squirm about. But it is mother bird that coaxes them to leave their nest and try flying. She will stand a few feet away, offering tempting bits of food to encourage them to get out and try their wings. In cases where the nest is in a very high place, it is crucial to make a success of their first attempt. Remarkably, many young fledglings may cover one hundred yards on their initial flight.
Teaching Them to Survive
In order to eat, young creatures who live by the sea need to learn how to fish. Seals, sea lions and polar bears will dive into the water and come up with a fish. Then they release it in front of their hungry youngsters. This encourages them to grab the prey before it can escape. It does not take very long for these animals to become quite adept at fishing.
How important it is that these young creatures learn all they can about getting food! Once they are big enough to fend for themselves, their parents’ interest in feeding them will shut down by instinct. And they will be on their own.
Survival also includes avoiding dangers. How do animal parents warn their little ones about these? A mother deer teaches her fawn to fear man by herself demonstrating such fear at the sight or scent of man.
When a she-wolf comes near a trap with her cubs for the first time, she shows great fear. Her young ones see her reaction and are helped to learn that traps are to be avoided.
The defense reactions of animals against dangers appear to be acquired mainly by learning. Giant rats that were born in captivity in Paris, France, did not react to a large python. They even approached it calmly and sniffed at its snout. But their parents violently attacked the snake, having evidently become acquainted with it in their native Africa. The same was true of young chimpanzees. Relatively speaking, they, too, were indifferent to a snake, although adults of their kind showed great fear of it.
Making Them Obey
At times playfulness gets in the way of young animals in taking their lessons seriously. But their parents seem not to put up with such nonsense. A mother cat, teaching her kittens how to catch mice, will box their ears if they are slow or inattentive.
Goats in the mountains of Scotland send their kids ahead of them through the rocks. Should a kid take a step in the wrong direction, a butt from his mother’s horns will let him know it.
A young fawn must learn to stay very still at times in order to escape detection. If it insists on being restless, mother deer will give it a hard tap with her foot. And that usually gets it to settle down.
Lions, bears, squirrels and other animals also do not spare the rod on their disobedient youngsters. They curb foolishness by a sharp cuff, a shaking or a spanking. It is for the young ones’ benefit. Parental discipline helps them to stay alive.
Is there a lesson in this for human parents? Perhaps. Human young, too, need to be taught obedience, they need to learn what kind of food to eat and how to avoid dangerous situations.
But are human parents going to stop with that, satisfied that they are doing as much for their children as animals do? Our life as humans can be so much richer than that; it can have so much more meaning. The Bible has been provided by God to show us how.