Can Wild Animals Really 'Sense' Fear in Other Animals?


Stefan Pociask:

All too often, some interpret the phrase “They can sense your fear” as something telepathic, some additional non-human sense, or something that is not understood. That, of course, is not it at all. Animals sense fear in others by just using various combinations of the five senses that we are all already familiar with.

Most everyone knows that the majority of vertebrates have at least one sense, if not more, that is more developed and stronger than what humans possess. The nose of a bloodhound, the eyes of an eagle, the ears of an owl, etc. (our sense of taste ranks about average, and our sense of touch is better than most).

In any case, it shouldn’t be surprising that animals can use those heightened senses to sense fear in other animals. No “sixth sense” is required. Actually, only various combinations of three are required: smell, sight, and hearing. I think we can all agree that, if it gets down to an animal tasting your fear or touching your fear, it’s already too late for you, or the prey in question, in any case.

That’s not to say that there are not more than our five senses. Take the sense of navigation in animals like pigeons and other birds; we don’t have that. There’s the sense of echolocation, found in certain bats and whales; we don’t have that, either. Nor the sense related to electroreception, in sharks and other fish. There are several others, scattered about the animal kingdom.

Having said all that … the most brave, fearless, aggressive bunny in the world is still going to feel the jaws of that fox or coyote crush his body, if the predator gets close enough. The fearless dodo bird was still regularly scooped up by sailors and other predators (that being one of the few higher animals who never developed the “fight or flight” response).

The ability to either sense fear or project fear plays a large part in the predator/prey relationship. For a human, not projecting fear won’t necessarily save you from being jumped by that cougar, nor being trampled by that bull elephant, but it might increase your chances of surviving. On the other hand, projecting fear in those situations will almost certainly decrease your chances of surviving. Your adversary in situations like that will surely be using its basic senses (sight, smell, and hearing) to determine its next course of action, in regards to you.

The “other animals” are not the only ones who can and do sense fear. Humans do it, as well. Granted, our level of fear-sensing is not as acute as most other vertebrates. But we still have the ability. Bullies use it. Car salesmen use it. Debt collectors use it. Con men and scam artists use it. Athletes use it. Diplomats use it. And of course, various types of warriors use it.

There’s a related term here: "Never let them see you sweat." That, if applied both figuratively and literally, is what it’s all about. Yet, it’s more than just about sweating.

In the end, it’s not particularly difficult to understand how animals, including us, can sense fear. Actually, it is beneficial that you understand it; that you understand how fear is both projected, and how it is sensed. It can help you to keep from getting bullied, from getting taken advantage of, and indeed, there are times when it can help you to survive. Part of it is instinctual, and part of it is learned. A good part of it is skill. You’d be well served to learn this skill well, both sensing it and controlling the projecting of it. Yet, to learn it best, you must understand it.

To understand it best, I would suggest that you change the phrase from "sensing fear" to "reading fear." It’s not only the wild animals. Most all animals are capable of it ... including you.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Do Bats Hang Upside Down?

Stefan Pociask:

The age-old question of upside down bats. Yes, it is awfully weird that there is an animal—a mammal even—that hangs upside down. Sure, some monkeys do it when they're just monkeying around. And a few other tree climbers, like margays, hang upside down if they are reaching for something or—again, like the margay cat—may actually even hunt that way ... But bats are the only animals that actually spend most of their time hanging upside down: feeding this way, raising their young this way, and, yes, sleeping or roosting this way.

There is actually a very good and sensible reason why they do this: They have to hang upside down so that they can fly.

First off, we have to acknowledge that bats are not birds, nor are they insects. These are the other two animals that have true powered flight (as opposed to gliding). The difference between bat flight and bird or insect flight is weight—specifically, the ratio of weight to lift-capacity of the wings. If you walk up to a bird or insect, most species will be able to fly right up into the air from a motionless position, and do it quickly.

Bats, on the other hand (or, other wing), can’t do that. They have a lot of difficulty taking off from the ground (not that they can’t do it ... it’s just more difficult). Insects and birds often actually jump into the air to give them a start in the right direction, then their powerful wings take them up, up, and away.

Birds have hollow bones; bats don’t. Insects are made of lightweight chitin or soft, light tissue; bats aren’t. And bats don’t have what you could call "powerful" wings. These amazing creatures are mammals, after all. The only flying mammals. Nature found a way to evolve such an unlikely thing as a flying mammal, so some compromises had to be made. Bats, once airborne, manage perfectly well in the air, and can literally fly circles around most birds in flight. The problem is in first getting off the ground.

To compensate for the extra weight that mammals must have, to compensate for the problem of getting off the ground, evolution found another way for bats to transition from being motionless to immediately being able to fly when necessary. Evolution said, “How about if we drop them from above? That way they are immediately in the air, and all they need to do is start flapping."

It was a great idea, as it turns out. Except bat feet aren’t any good for perching on a branch. They are mammals, not birds, so their musculature, their bones, and their tendons are set up in a completely different way. When a bird squats down on a branch, their tendons actually lock their toes into an even tighter grip on the perch. It happens automatically. That’s part of being a bird, and is universal. That’s why they don’t fall off in their sleep.

Bats, as mammals, are set up differently. Therefore, to compensate for that fact, nature said, “How about if we have them hang upside down? That way, their tendons will actually pull their toes closed, just like a bird does from the opposite direction.” So that’s what evolved. Bats hang from the bottom of something, and all they have to do is "let go" and they are instantly flying. In fact, with this gravity-assist method, they can achieve instant flight even faster than birds, who have to work against gravity.

Side note: In case you were wondering how bats poop and pee while upside down ... First off, pooping is no big deal. Bat poop looks like tiny grains of rice; if they are hanging, it just falls to the floor of the bat cave as guano. Pee, however ... well, they have that covered too. They just “hold it” until they are flying.

So there you go. Bats sleep hanging upside down because they are mammals and can’t take off into the air like birds can (at least not without difficulty). But, if they're hanging, all they do is let go.

Makes total sense, right?

Now, having said all that about upside down bats, I must mention the following: Not all of the 1240-plus species of bats do hang upside down. There are exceptions—about six of them, within two different families. One is in South America (Thyropteridae) and the other is in Madagascar (Myzopodidae). The Myzopodidae, which includes just one species, is exceedingly rare.

So it turns out that these bats roost inside the tubes of young, unfurled banana leaves and other similar large leaves. When they attach themselves to the inside of this rolled leaf, they do it head-up. The problem with living inside of rolled-up leaves is that within a few days, these leaves will continue growing, and eventually open up. Whenever that happens, the whole group of bats has to pick up and move to another home. Over and over again. All six of these species of rare bats have a suction cup on each wrist and ankle, and they use these to attach to the smooth surface of the inside of the leaf tube. Evolution: the more you learn, the more amazing it becomes.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What's the Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal?

Aside from tacos, enchiladas, and other tasty tortilla-wrapped treats, tequila and mezcal are among some of Mexico’s best-known offerings in the food and beverage category. These tipples, made from the agave plant, are so embedded in the country’s culture that Mexico City even has a museum dedicated to the two drinks, and Jose Cuervo operates a "tequila train" to none other than the city of Tequila. These beverages can be used to make a variety of cocktails, from the tequila sunrise to the mezcalita, but unless you’re a bartender or a connoisseur of spirits, you might not know the difference between the two. Is mezcal just fancier tequila?

Not exactly. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but the reverse isn’t always true. It’s similar to the distinction between champagne and sparkling wine, in which the name of the beverage depends on whether it was produced in the Champagne region of France or elsewhere. While mezcal can be produced anywhere in Mexico, tequila is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco (though a few exceptions do apply).

Tequila and mezcal also differ in the ingredients from which they are derived. Mezcal can come from any of the dozens of agave plants—a type of desert succulent—that are grown throughout Mexico. Tequila is made specifically from blue agave and, depending on the variety and brand, a bottle will contain between 51 percent and 100 percent of the plant-based nectar. According to The Tierra Group, a wholesaler of agave products, blue agave nectar is especially sweet because it’s 80 percent fructose, per Mexico’s regulations.

Lastly, tequila and mezcal taste different because of the ways in which they are prepared. Mezcal tends to have a savory, smoky, earthy flavor because the agave hearts (or piñas) are left cooking for several days in a fire pit that has been lined with volcanic rock and covered with agave leaves and earth. The piñas destined to end up in tequila, on the other hand, are often cooked in a brick oven, then crushed up to extract the juice.

If you ever feel adventurous at the liquor store and decide to bring home a bottle of mezcal, just keep in mind that there’s a particular way to drink it. “The first mistake many people make is pouring mezcal in a shot glass and pouring it down their throat,” Chris Reyes, a mixologist at New York City’s Temerario bar and restaurant told Instead, the spirit is best sipped in a clay cup known as a jicarita.

Some words of advice if you do go shopping for mezcal: If you ever see a worm at the bottom of the bottle, that means it’s probably not a very good mezcal, according to Reyes. By contrast, tequila bottles should never have worms in them (despite the common misconception). So if you’re looking to avoid invertebrate-infused concoctions at all costs, tequila is your best bet.

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