Some time ago, I read a conversation with Dr. Marian Dawkins, where she was asking, "What do animals want?" She makes the point that animals need more than food and shelter; they have feelings about things; they have their own likes and dislikes. Not human likes, but theirs, their own particular quirks.
A few quotes from the conversation:
But also most people think that there's something more to animal welfare than just not dying of a disease. That more is, in my view, what the animals, themselves, want. Do they want access to water; do they want access to cover? Do they want to be with each other? Obviously we can't necessarily give them everything they want. But we can at least find out what it is.
I became interested in the idea that not only could you ask animals what they wanted, to give them a choice, but you could actually ask them how much they wanted something.
My argument is saying, because we don't understand animal consciousness, we ought to be opening our eyes to the possibility that a great range of animals, not just mammals, not just birds, maybe invertebrates are conscious as well. It seems to me that by saying we don't understand consciousness, you're not closing off animals' consciousness. You're not denying animal consciousness altogether. You're just simply saying we don't know and therefore it might exist in a much wider range of animals.
I was surprised that she mentions invertebrates, although most of her work is with farm animals and pets. It made me look more closely at my tank full of critters, all invertebrates. What do they want? What are they thinking?
My cat comes in, wet and cold, and climbs on my lap. I pet her, scratch her ears and neck; she purrs and purrs. I stop scratching and she nudges my hand; "Come on, don't stop now!" She lets me know what she wants. She tells me when she's happy. She lets me know when she's annoyed with me. (And her claws are sharp!)
My neighbour's dog sees me and runs to drop her ball at my feet, then looks at me expectantly. I know what she wants, too. It's not just food and shelter. It's fun. It's companionship. It's someone telling her she's a good girl.
Cleaning the tank, I remove all the animals, each species to their own bowl or basin. I give the hermits and crabs pieces of dried shrimp; they love these. When the tank is clean and refurbished, I move the hermits back, one by one. Each one comes holding his little morsel of shrimp, tightly. Rarely do they drop it on the way over.
If they were kittens, would they be purring?
|Orange striped green anemone. Likes shrimp, too. Likes to wander about. Doesn't like hermits.|
|Miniature worm, fishing for goodies. If he were a dog, would he be thumping those tentacles on the floor?|
|Baby shore crab, just standing by the glass, watching me over her shoulders.|
The crabs like shrimp, but when they're travelling, they don't want any. They walk around and around, trying to find the way home. I move them back, and they start digging. Forget treats! They've got work to do!
Crabs love to dig, but it doesn't seem to have a purpose. When they've finished a burrow, they move out and start to dig somewhere else. Is their digging more akin to my stumbles down a rocky shore, not going anywhere, just there for the pleasure of the sun on my back, the fresh breeze in my face, the good ache in my legs when I'm back home in my favourite chair?
Do shore crabs smile as they dig?
|Lined chiton. What does he like? I don't know. Yet.|
|Pair of amphipods, courting. She's the orange one; he will hold onto her for days.|
The amphipods and limpets, the snails and chitons and anemones, don't know I'm here. The crabs do; they come to the glass and wave pincers at me, challenging me, maybe. And the hermits are as curious as a jumping spider. Or a kitten. They watch me. They grab at my fingers, or the chopstick that I sometimes use to move the seaweeds aside. They pick at it, taste it, try to climb it. Curiosity; the desire to know something.
Long ago, I watched a hermit trying to climb a thermometer, just to see what was at the top. She kept falling off, but persisted until I gave her a "ladder". Once she'd reached the top and looked around, she slid back down and walked away, curiosity sated.
I'm curious, too: what do my critters know? What are they feeling? Do they know happiness? Loneliness? Grief?