(WILDLIFE/ANIMAL SCIENCE) The Internet isn’t the only place overflowing with adorable pairs of unlikely animal friends. In fact, scientists are beginning to use these friendships to better understand wildlife. Researchers are claiming that by understanding unique animal friendships, it can help us understand how species communicate.

Continue reading to find out more about what these unusual animal pairings are teaching scientists. — Global Animal

Growing up together  It’s naptime for an orangutan baby and a tiger cub, hand-reared as siblings at the Taman Safari Zoo in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Today News
It’s naptime for an orangutan baby and a tiger cub, hand-reared as siblings at the Taman Safari Zoo in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Today News

New York Times, Erica Goode

A goat frolics with a baby rhinoceros. A pig nestles up to a house cat. A rat snake makes nice with the dwarf hamster originally intended as its lunch.

Few things seem to capture the public imagination more reliably than friendly interactions between different species — a fact not lost on Anheuser-Busch, which during Sunday’s Super Bowl will offer a sequel to “Puppy Love,” its wildly popular 2014 Budweiser commercial about friendship between a Clydesdale and a yellow Labrador puppy. The earlier Super Bowl spot has drawn more than 55 million views on YouTube.

Videos of unlikely animal pairs romping or snuggling have become so common that they are piquing the interest of some scientists, who say they invite more systematic study. Among other things, researchers say, the alliances could add to an understanding of how species communicate, what propels certain animals to connect across species lines and the degree to which some animals can adopt the behaviors of other species.

“Even one example raises the possibility that there’s something interesting going on here,” Dr. Burghardt said.

Science has not entirely ignored unusual interactions between species. Biologists have described relationships formed to achieve a specific goal, like the cooperative hunting between groupers and moray eels. And in the mid-1900s, Konrad Lorenz and other ethologists demonstrated that during critical periods after birth, certain birds and other animals would follow the first moving object they saw, whether animal, human or machine, a phenomenon known as imprinting. Dr. Lorenz was famously photographed with a gaggle of “imprinted” geese trailing behind him.

Yet until recently, any suggestion that interspecies relationships might be based simply on companionship would probably have been met with derision, dismissed as Pixar-like anthropomorphism. That has changed as research has gradually eroded some boundaries between homo sapiens and other animals. Other species, it turns out, share abilities once considered exclusive to humans, including some emotions, tool use, counting, certain aspects of language and even a moral sense.

To be sure, some scientists remain skeptical that the examples of cross-species relations offer much more to science than a hefty dose of cuteness.

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