The Well-Connected Animal

Social Networks and the Wondrous Complexity of Animal Societies

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Pub Date May 15 2024 | Archive Date May 01 2024

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An engaging exploration of the wondrous social webs that permeate life in animal societies around the world.
It’s all about who you know. Whether vampire bats sharing blood meals for survival, field crickets remembering champion fighters, macaque monkeys forming grooming pacts after a deadly hurricane, or great tit birds learning the best way to steal milk—it pays to be well connected.

In this tour of the animal kingdom, evolutionary biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin reveals a new field of study, uncovering social networks that existed long before the dawn of human social media. He accessibly describes the latest findings from animal behavior, evolution, computer science, psychology, anthropology, genetics, and neurobiology, and incorporates interviews and insights from researchers he finds swimming with manta rays, avoiding pigeon poop, and stopping monkeys from stealing iPads. With Dugatkin as our guide, we investigate social networks in giraffes, elephants, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, whales, bats, and more. From animal networks in Australia and Asia to Africa, Europe, and the Americas, The Well-Connected Animal is an eye-opening exposé of wild friends, enemies, and everything in between.
An engaging exploration of the wondrous social webs that permeate life in animal societies around the world.
It’s all about who you know. Whether vampire bats sharing blood meals for survival...

Advance Praise

"An engaging exploration of the interconnectedness of the animal world. . . . An entertaining tour of what we learn as we eavesdrop on the non-human conversations all around us." ― Kirkus Reviews

"Studies how animals share information and resources through socializing, including how great tit birds learn to break into milk bottles and how vampire bats split meals." ― Publishers Weekly, Spring 2024 Adult Preview: Science

“One of the most talented biologists of our time lends fascinating insight into the most important part of our existence. By exploring the origins of our social connections, Dugatkin uncovers a world of cooperation, communication, and bonding in the animal kingdom that ultimately leads to ours. A beautifully written adventure into the secrets of the natural world.” -- Brian Hare, coauthor of "The Genius of Dogs"

“For many years, Dugatkin has been one of my 'go-to-guys' for learning about cutting edge research in animal behavior. The Well-Connected Animal is yet another one of his extremely thoughtful books, this time outlining what we know about social networks in diverse species, how the research is conducted, and where future studies should best focus. I’m sure many will be pleasantly surprised by the flexible, intricate, and varied social networks that many nonhumans form and use in their daily lives.” -- Marc Bekoff, author of "Dogs Demystified" and "The Emotional Lives of Animals"

“Long before the invention of Facebook and Twitter, animals discovered the value and peril of social networking. With engaging prose and sweeping scope, The Well-Connected Animal explores the intricate interactions that characterize animal societies and the equally compelling story of the scientists who study them.” -- Jonathan B. Losos, author of "The Cat’s Meow" and "Improbable Destinies"

“Scrupulously scientific but highly accessible. . . . A stunningly provocative reflection.” -- David P. Barash ― Wall Street Journal, on "Power in the Wild"

“Sparkling. . . . A parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.” -- Marlene Zuk ― New York Times Book Review, on "How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)"

"An engaging exploration of the interconnectedness of the animal world. . . . An entertaining tour of what we learn as we eavesdrop on the non-human conversations all around us." ― Kirkus Reviews


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ISBN 9780226818788
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Featured Reviews

Although our common use of the term "social network" to cover things like Facebook puts these interactions in too small a box, this survey of the current state of social communication in groups of animals is full of surprises. It's an excellently written popular account.

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I read this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley. As usual, the offer didn't disappoint me.

This book delighted the never materialized little scientist in me, because I was always passionate about animals, animal welfare and research, but rarely did those books manage to make me feel that passion behind the scenes of the research projects those scientists were conducting.

Every being (humans included) connects over food, reproduction, power, safety, travel, communication, culture and health, no matter how diminutive these networks may seem to our eyes. Networks are not present only between individuals, but also between groups and different species, not to mention even peculiar specimens inside one single individual.

After discussing the very idea of the network itself, every type is dissected in their own chapter. Each chapter painstakingly covers three or more dissertations made by author's fellow scientists, including their fascinating stories behind the scenes of each.
I was surprised to discover there are so many animals being analyzed that I did not pay very much attention to - from guppies to manta rays, sifakas and macaques, to hyraxes and tasmanian devils, to bats, cockatoos, bees and... microbes.

Personally I found the most interesting aspect of those projects were sometimes cataclysmic events that were in no way created by scientists, but happened quite accidentally. Those disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, unexpected apocalyptic-like predator attacks threatened to completely derail the experiments, but eventually proved to be oddly beneficial to the projects, because they unwittingly showcased what scientists also needed: how networks function under - mildly put - adverse conditions and how dynamics changed afterwards for the survival and the betterment of the whole group and the individuals.

I do envy those scientists. I would have loved to work with a massive amount of data and to try to make sense of it all. However, I would have had a very difficult time not to get attached to the subjects of those experiments, as many of them did. Good thing though was that after such a sorrow, they felt a bit of relief that in many cases life did find a way, and with those experiments they showed just how. Some might say the conclusions were obvious - humans are also beings who rely on networking in any sense mentioned above. However, it took a generation or two of scientists, and a book or two just like this one I've just read, to accept that such assumptions may be applied to animals of lower ranking than humans, and that we all are not so fundamentally different as we like to think.

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