By Maneka Gandhi*
God save any parent from two sons. Even the richest families do not survive the inherent rivalry between them and a large number of cases in court are by brothers demanding the estate. Brothers and sisters are slightly better but once they get married the bond becomes weaker and again the fighting, over property, starts. It is estimated that there are over one crore cases in India just dealing with sibling claims.
How do animal’s brothers and sisters work with each other? Sand Tiger Shark babies kill each other up in the womb till only one emerges. Fire salamanders eat each other in the womb so that they can get healthier and develop more quickly.
Like us, some animal siblings compete for resources such as parental care, food, territory, and potential mating partners. The degree of rivalry varies, ranging from a low level of violence to the killing of kin in siblicide.
Blue footed booby siblings often exhibit aggression towards each other, with older chicks pecking at younger chicks. Senior chicks may sometimes eliminate siblings when there are food shortages. So do laughing gulls who are born in earlier batches of eggs. Cattle egrets are known to practice siblicide when the parents are away from the nest hunting for insects and fish. One of the chicks as it gets stronger will actually kill its sibling and throw it out of the nest. In other bird species, siblings compete for food through manipulation of parental behavior rather than direct aggressive acts: American robin chicks compete for food provided by their parents through louder cheeps, with the most food given to chicks exhibiting the most intense begging behavior. Do human parents encourage rivalry in the belief that it will bring out the toughness in their children? Many behave like Great Tits who distribute food preferentially to their babies, increasing their inequality and bonds with each other.
Spotted hyena siblings begin their aggression towards each other only a few minutes after birth and this continues for a few days. The aim is to establish rank between littermates but if there is intense competition for food, it can lead to murder.
Not all aggressive rivalry is meant to be lethal. But it may end up that way. You have seen puppies and piglets pushing each other away to feed better at their mother’s teats. In fact, competition is responsible for 43% of piglet neonatal death due to starvation.
But there are happier cases of sibling revelry in nature.
The workers in a bee hive are all sisters. These siblings raise their younger sisters to maturity, feeding and grooming them, even fluttering their wings throughout the day so that the hive doesn’t get too hot. When the larvae become pupae just before adulthood, the older sisters coat them with wax in their beds so that the babies can grow in peace.
Common shrew siblings take care to ensure that they all stay together. Their response to danger is clamping down on each other’s tails with their teeth in caravan style so that they are not separated.
When Cascaded frogs are just tadpoles they recognize and remember their brothers and sisters. Much later, should they come across them they will leave groups they’re not related to so that they can hang out with their family.
Naked mole rats are the only mammals like bees or ants. They have hundreds of sisters from the same mother and organize themselves into large yet intimate colonies. The older sisters help defend against predators and feed their younger siblings. Only one female in a colony is allowed to reproduce and her sisters will sacrifice having mates so that the colony structure remains organized.
Turkeys are what brothers should be. Many male bird species separate from the flock when they get older, but turkeys form bonds with their brethren for life, helping each other to hunt and look for food. A turkey may even help his more dominant brother attract females while he himself foregoes mating.
The Asian short-clawed otter can have a family of 15 individuals. In this family older siblings help to raise younger offspring. As long as their parents are alive, otter siblings will never part. Young siblings form groups with older females and will sometimes hold hands so that they don’t get separated. The otter brothers spend almost all their time together, and get along pretty well, except for the occasional scuffle around feeding time. They even sleep in a big pile, and when they want to move the location of their sleeping nest, they work together: they pull the grasses down, and carry them around industriously.
Peregrine falcons bond uniquely. Not only will they play with each other while airborne, but they will also practice their hunting skills on one another, where one falcon plays the role of predator and the other acts as prey.
Earwigs are also fiercely loyal to their siblings. Female earwigs lay on average 40 to 45 eggs and stay over the winter with them. The mothers watch the eggs, keep them clean by licking off fungi and carry them back and forth in the nest. Once the young emerge, they stay in the nest for few weeks with their mothers, even though they are equipped to take care of themselves. The siblings behave cooperatively and share food, and this behavior occurs much more frequently when the mother is not present and is not feeding her offspring herself.
Australian social huntsman spiders live as family groups with a single mother and multiple clutches of her offspring in nests under the loose bark of dead trees. Bigger brothers and sisters capture bigger, juicier prey, which they bring back to the nest to share with their younger siblings.
Like most humans, elephants are born one at a time, and older sister elephants babysit their younger siblings while the mother is away.
Lions boast a special form of sister and brother alliance: sisters stay together all their lives in groups called prides, and brothers form coalitions when they set off to find other prides to conquer
If chimpanzees are orphaned, they are often adopted by old siblings. This occurs even if both partners are still immature, with older individuals effectively becoming ‘child household heads’.
Are you fighting with your family members? Are you happy?
About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi