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A social animal is a loosely defined term for an organism that is highly interactive with other members of its species to the point of having a recognizable and distinct society.

Gorillas and other higher primates are noted as having similarly complex social structures.

All mammals (and birds) are social to the extent that mothers and offspring bond. The term "social animal" is usually only applied when there is a level of social organization that goes beyond this, with permanent groups of adults living together, and relationships between individuals that endure from one encounter to another.

Animal social behavior and organization is studied in comparative psychology, ethology, sociobiology, behavioral ecology and computer science (artificial intelligence). Typical issues in social behavior are:

  • What is the typical size of the group? What factors limit group size? What factors lead to groups merging or splitting?
  • Does the species show territoriality? If so, to what extent? If territories are maintained, what is their purpose? Are they held by an individual or a group?
  • Are there permanent social dominance relationships within the group? Is there any pattern within them?

A few species, notably insects of the orders Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) and Isoptera (termites) show an extreme form of sociality, involving highly organized societies, with individual organisms specialized for distinct roles. This form of social behavior is referred to as eusociality. Some vertebrates, most notably the Naked Mole Rat, are also eusocial.

Some invertebrates whose social behavior is of particular interest:

For a review of sociality in across the Arthropods, see The Insect Societies by Edward O. Wilson, The Evolution of Social Behavior in Insects and Arachnids edited by Jae Choe and Bernard J. Crespi, and The Other Insect Societies by James T. Costa.

Features of Vertebrate Societies

Animal societies may exhibit one of more of these behaviors:

  • cooperative rearing of young by the group
  • overlapping generations living in a permanent, as opposed to seasonal, group
  • cooperative foraging or hunting
  • social learning (such as a young chimpanzee learning by observation to use a twig to fish for termites)

A chief debate among ethologists studying animal societies is whether non-human primates and other animals can be said to have culture.


Some vertebrates whose social behavior is of particular interest:

Human social behavior frequently includes non-human creatures (most notably dogs, cats, and horses).

2000 Conference on Animal Sociality

In August 2000, a conference on Animal Social Complexity and Intelligence was held at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The three-day conference, convened to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jane Goodall's work in Tanzania on Chimpanzees, gathered together international researchers working on sociality in a wide variety of vertebrates, including humans, primates, other mammals, and birds. The conference proceedings were published as a book in 2003: [Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies][1], edited by Frans de Waal and Peter L. Tyack.

See also

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