‘Strength in numbers.’ ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ ‘All for one, one for all.’ How many times have you heard these statements? They are very common because they express humans’ need for collective security and the fact that humans’ effectiveness multiplies when they work together in groups. But the ideas contained in these statements don’t just apply to human societies. In fact, these ideas explain why many animals live in groups. The idea of individualism and the power of individuals making a difference are very recent human ideas. For most of our history and for many types of animals, it is all about groups and group behavior. They live in groups because they get a lot of benefits from group living they would not get if they were to go it alone. Here are just some of the benefits animals get from group living.
When buffalo get threatened by wolves, the older and more mature members of the herd form a circle with their horns pointed outwards towards the wolves. Young buffalo and more vulnerable members go inside the circle. Under constant threat of sharks and other predators, fish swim in huge schools. While both of these group behavior patterns provide protection, they do so differently. These are the two most common ways animals use group living for protection. In the buffalo scenario, the group actively tries to keep all members safe by pooling their collective defenses. In the case of the schools of fish, instead of pooling defenses, the fish use their huge numbers to ensure that the vast majority of them won’t be eaten. Unlike the buffaloes which stand a good chance of keeping all of its members safe, the fish strategy sacrifices a few for the protection of the many. These two types of group protection are the most common in the animal world.
The highest goal of any species is to reproduce. Living in groups boosts an animal’s chance of procreating. Not only do animals assure themselves of a partners, living in a large school or herd also ensures a higher level of selection. Selection is needed to ensure that the genetic stock of the next generation is hardy and can withstand a lot of pressures. This is why many herd animals have mating rituals and male competition. These factors ensure that only the fittest males pass on their genes to the next generation.