The Bengalese finch is a very interesting little bird. We know that it was only domesticated 250 years ago (from the wild white-rumped munia), but while the breeders have been developing its plumage, the birds themselves have been developing their songs, so that they now have a complex and beautiful song, compared to the munia’s plain and simple calls. Only the males sing, and it seems that the females select their mates on the basis of the quality of their song and tone, and the nicer the song, the more young they produce.
There is a video of this here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnNnNumuuVk
This simple story has a number of very interesting implications
- Apparently there is research that humans also produce more offspring when the parents like the tone of each others voices
- From this, it is thought that song-like sounds may have come before language
- Captivity has spurred on the evolution of the finch – contrary to the normal idea that competition gives rise to survival of the fittest, it seems that safety and easily available food has given the finch time and space to develop more quickly
This leads to the issue of domestication. Most of the species which man has domesticated are more juvenile than their wild cousins, they develop smaller teeth and jaws, their faces become cuter, and their brains become smaller, as they have less need for alertness. For example, dogs are clearly juvenile wolves.
And, all of this applies to us too. The authors speculate that mankind domesticated themselves about 100,000 years ago, perhaps because the use of fire and the partnership with dogs meant that we could get a safe night’s sleep, or perhaps there were other factors (and perhaps we were “helped” ?).
This leads to all sorts of interesting things to discuss, perhaps on the forum:-
How and when were mankind domesticated ? Did we have help, or did we domesticate ourselves ?
How does this fit with the re-wilding movement, or the wilderness movement, of with mythical books such as “The Wild Woman” or “Iron John” ?
Domestication and desire for wild(er)ness form a very interesting pair of opposites in our psychology
New Scientist, 7th Feb 2014, p 37, “The Finch Whisperers”. The main researcher of this is Kazuo Okanoya, University of Tokyo