Behavioral research is often reduced to a large set of data points, necessary of course for statistical analysis. But sometimes what gets lost is actual knowledge of what animals do in their natural habitats. There’s no substitute for just watching an animal over the course of a day or a week. Often what you’ll see is that animals are not little automatons, repetitively undertaking particular actions in accord (or not) with our theories. Rather, they have lives where they do all kinds of idiosyncratic behaviors, the sort of quirky detail that often get lost in high-falutin’ analyses of behavior. Ambika Kamath demonstrated just this in her recent post, “A Week in the Life of U131.” Here’s the first paragraph. You’ll have to go to her website to read the rest:
When you’re collecting data on the behaviour of individual animals over time, as I am this summer, your observations sometimes feel less like a collection of numbers and more like a collection of personal narratives. Of course, the data are both numbers and narratives, and when it comes time to analyze this collection of datapoints and understand the patterns that emerge from it, the numbers will be all that matter. But in the meanwhile, before I can look the bigger picture, I enjoy considering the individual narratives. And this week, I encountered a lizard whose story illustrates why it’s worth considering these narratives at all.