Do Animals Play for the Hell of It? Watch This Fox

A video of two foxes discovering a trampoline

Posted Dec 05, 2014

Nonhuman animal (animal) play is a topic that has received a good detailed attention in recent years (see and and, for example) because coming to an understanding of this behavior is central to learning about the evolution and development of play and other behavior patterns, and also its neurobiological correlates. In addition, learning about what animals actually do when they play is central to furthering our understanding of the evolution and development of moral behavior (fairness and cooperation (see, for example, Wild Justice: The Moral Life of Animals"Moral in Tooth and Claw", and "The Ethical Dog").

Numerous animals love to play. They often engage in social play and solitary/self-play to their heart's content. Various theories have been offered about why animals play, and there's no one explanation that fits all examples of animal play. Data show that play is important in social development, physical development, and cognitive development and also may be training for the unexpected (Spinka, Newberry, and Bekoff 2001). Based on an extensive review of available literature, my colleagues Marek Spinka, Ruth Newberry, and I proposed that play functions to increase the versatility of movements and the ability to recover from sudden shocks such as the loss of balance and falling over, and to enhance the ability of animals to cope emotionally with unexpected stressful situations. To obtain this "training for the unexpected" we suggested that animals actively seek and create unexpected situations in play and actively put themselves into disadvantageous positions and situations.

Animals may also play because it's fun -- for the hell of it, because it feels good -- during which time they're also benefiting from engaging in the activity itself. If you want animals - human and nonhuman -- to do something, make it enjoyable and fun. 

Last year I wrote about video of a Siberian husky playing by himself (or herself) and no other explanation seems plausible -- he or she simply just played because it was fun. Now, I've just learned of a video of two red foxes discovering a trampoline. One chooses to play on the trampoline while the other is cautious and never goes onto the trampoline. The lessons offered in this latest video are that animals do play for fun and that personality differences can be displayed, ranging from being exploratory and playful to being curious and cautious.  

Enjoy and share this video and think about the lessons about animal behavior that it offers. Stay tuned for more on the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent planet.

The teaser image can be seen here (no permission needed). 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also)Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also), and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistenceThe Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) will be published in 2015. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff