1. Mutual aid among animals

Submitted by libcom on January 31, 2006

Struggle for existence. -- Mutual Aid -- a law of Nature and
chief factor of progressive evolution. -- Invertebrates. -- Ants
and Bees -- Birds: Hunting and fishing associations. --
Sociability. -- Mutual protection among small birds. -- Cranes;

The conception of struggle for existence as a factor of

evolution, introduced into science by Darwin and Wallace, has

permitted us to embrace an immensely wide range of phenomena in

one single generalization, which soon became the very basis of

our philosophical, biological, and sociological speculations. An

immense variety of facts: -- adaptations of function and

structure of organic beings to their surroundings; physiological

and anatomical evolution; intellectual progress, and moral

development itself, which we formerly used to explain by so many

different causes, were embodied by Darwin in one general

conception. We understood them as continued endeavours -- as a

struggle against adverse circumstances -- for such a development

of individuals, races, species and societies, as would result in

the greatest possible fulness, variety, and intensity of life. It

may be that at the outset Darwin himself was not fully aware of

the generality of the factor which he first invoked for

explaining one series only of facts relative to the accumulation

of individual variations in incipient species. But he foresaw

that the term which he was introducing into science would lose

its philosophical and its only true meaning if it were to be used

in its narrow sense only -- that of a struggle between separate

individuals for the sheer means of existence. And at the very

beginning of his memorable work he insisted upon the term being

taken in its "large and metaphorical sense including dependence

of one being on another, and including (which is more important)

not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving


While he himself was chiefly using the term in its narrow

sense for his own special purpose, he warned his followers

against committing the error (which he seems once to have

committed himself) of overrating its narrow meaning. In The

Descent of Man he gave some powerful pages to illustrate its

proper, wide sense. He pointed out how, in numberless animal

societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the

means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by

co-operation, and how that substitution results in the

development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to

the species the best conditions for survival. He intimated that

in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor

the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to

support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the

community. "Those communities," he wrote, "which included the

greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish

best, and rear the greatest number of offspring" (2nd edit., p.

163). The term, which originated from the narrow Malthusian

conception of competition between each and all, thus lost its

narrowness in the mind of one who knew Nature.

Unhappily, these remarks, which might have become the basis

of most fruitful researches, were overshadowed by the masses of

facts gathered for the purpose of illustrating the consequences

of a real competition for life. Besides, Darwin never attempted

to submit to a closer investigation the relative importance of

the two aspects under which the struggle for existence appears in

the animal world, and he never wrote the work he proposed to

write upon the natural checks to over-multiplication, although

that work would have been the crucial test for appreciating the

real purport of individual struggle. Nay, on the very pages just

mentioned, amidst data disproving the narrow Malthusian

conception of struggle, the old Malthusian leaven reappeared --

namely, in Darwin's remarks as to the alleged inconveniences of

maintaining the "weak in mind and body" in our civilized

societies (ch. v). As if thousands of weak-bodied and infirm

poets, scientists, inventors, and reformers, together with other

thousands of so-called "fools" and "weak-minded enthusiasts,"

were not the most precious weapons used by humanity in its

struggle for existence by intellectual and moral arms, which

Darwin himself emphasized in those same chapters of Descent of


It happened with Darwin's theory as it always happens with

theories having any bearing upon human relations. Instead of

widening it according to his own hints, his followers narrowed it

still more. And while Herbert Spencer, starting on independent

but closely allied lines, attempted to widen the inquiry into

that great question, "Who are the fittest?" especially in the

appendix to the third edition of the Data of Ethics, the

numberless followers of Darwin reduced the notion of struggle for

existence to its narrowest limits. They came to conceive the

animal world as a world of perpetual struggle among half-starved

individuals, thirsting for one another's blood. They made modern

literature resound with the war-cry of woe to the vanquished, as

if it were the last word of modern biology. They raised the

"pitiless" struggle for personal advantages to the height of a

biological principle which man must submit to as well, under the

menace of otherwise succumbing in a world based upon mutual

extermination. Leaving aside the economists who know of natural

science but a few words borrowed from second-hand vulgarizers, we

must recognize that even the most authorized exponents of

Darwin's views did their best to maintain those false ideas. In

fact, if we take Huxley, who certainly is considered as one of

the ablest exponents of the theory of evolution, were we not

taught by him, in a paper on the 'Struggle for Existence and its

Bearing upon Man,' that,

"from the point of view of the moralist, the animal world is on

about the same level as a gladiators' show. The creatures are

fairly well treated, and set to, fight hereby the strongest, the

swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The

spectator has no need to turn his thumb down, as no quarter is


Or, further down in the same article, did he not tell us

that, as among animals, so among primitive men,

"the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest

and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their

circumstances, but not the best in another way, survived. Life

was a continuous free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary

relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all

was the normal state of existence."2

In how far this view of nature is supported by fact, will be

seen from the evidence which will be here submitted to the reader

as regards the animal world, and as regards primitive man. But it

may be remarked at once that Huxley's view of nature had as

little claim to be taken as a scientific deduction as the

opposite view of Rousseau, who saw in nature but love, peace, and

harmony destroyed by the accession of man. In fact, the first

walk in the forest, the first observation upon any animal

society, or even the perusal of any serious work dealing with

animal life (D'Orbigny's, Audubon's, Le Vaillant's, no matter

which), cannot but set the naturalist thinking about the part

taken by social life in the life of animals, and prevent him from

seeing in Nature nothing but a field of slaughter, just as this

would prevent him from seeing in Nature nothing but harmony and

peace. Rousseau had committed the error of excluding the

beak-and-claw fight from his thoughts; and Huxley committed the

opposite error; but neither Rousseau's optimism nor Huxley's

pessimism can be accepted as an impartial interpretation of


As soon as we study animals -- not in laboratories and

museums only, but in the forest and the prairie, in the steppe

and the mountains -- we at once perceive that though there is an

immense amount of warfare and extermination going on amidst

various species, and especially amidst various classes of

animals, there is, at the same time, as much, or perhaps even

more, of mutual support, mutual aid, and mutual defence amidst

animals belonging to the same species or, at least, to the same

society. Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual

struggle. Of course it would be extremely difficult to estimate,

however roughly, the relative numerical importance of both these

series of facts. But if we resort to an indirect test, and ask

Nature: "Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war

with each other, or those who support one another?" we at once

see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are

undoubtedly the fittest. They have more chances to survive, and

they attain, in their respective classes, the highest development

of intelligence and bodily organization. If the numberless facts

which can be brought forward to support this view are taken into

account, we may safely say that mutual aid is as much a law of

animal life as mutual struggle, but that, as a factor of

evolution, it most probably has a far greater importance,

inasmuch as it favours the development of such habits and

characters as insure the maintenance and further development of

the species, together with the greatest amount of welfare and

enjoyment of life for the individual, with the least waste of


Of the scientific followers of Darwin, the first, as far as I

know, who understood the full purport of Mutual Aid as a law of

Nature and the chief factor of evolution, was a well-known

Russian zoologist, the late Dean of the St. Petersburg

University, Professor Kessler. He developed his ideas in an

address which he delivered in January 1880, a few months before

his death, at a Congress of Russian naturalists; but, like so

many good things published in the Russian tongue only, that

remarkable address remains almost entirely unknown.3

"As a zoologist of old standing," he felt bound to protest

against the abuse of a term -- the struggle for existence --

borrowed from zoology, or, at least, against overrating its

importance. Zoology, he said, and those sciences which deal with

man, continually insist upon what they call the pitiless law of

struggle for existence. But they forget the existence of another

law which may be described as the law of mutual aid, which law,

at least for the animals, is far more essential than the former.

He pointed out how the need of leaving progeny necessarily brings

animals together, and, "the more the individuals keep together,

the more they mutually support each other, and the more are the

chances of the species for surviving, as well as for making

further progress in its intellectual development." "All classes

of animals," he continued, "and especially the higher ones,

practise mutual aid," and he illustrated his idea by examples

borrowed from the life of the burying beetles and the social life

of birds and some mammalia. The examples were few, as might have

been expected in a short opening address, but the chief points

were clearly stated; and, after mentioning that in the evolution

of mankind mutual aid played a still more prominent part,

Professor Kessler concluded as follows: --

"I obviously do not deny the struggle for existence, but I

maintain that the progressive development of the animal kingdom,

and especially of mankind, is favoured much more by mutual

support than by mutual struggle.... All organic beings have two

essential needs: that of nutrition, and that of propagating the

species. The former brings them to a struggle and to mutual

extermination, while the needs of maintaining the species bring

them to approach one another and to support one another. But I am

inclined to think that in the evolution of the organic world --

in the progressive modification of organic beings -- mutual

support among individuals plays a much more important part than

their mutual struggle."4

The correctness of the above views struck most of the Russian

zoologists present, and Syevertsoff, whose work is well known to

ornithologists and geographers, supported them and illustrated

them by a few more examples. He mentioned sone of the species of

falcons which have "an almost ideal organization for robbery,"

and nevertheless are in decay, while other species of falcons,

which practise mutual help, do thrive. "Take, on the other side,

a sociable bird, the duck," he said; "it is poorly organized on

the whole, but it practises mutual support, and it almost invades

the earth, as may be judged from its numberless varieties and


The readiness of the Russian zoologists to accept Kessler's

views seems quite natural, because nearly all of them have had

opportunities of studying the animal world in the wide

uninhabited regions of Northern Asia and East Russia; and it is

impossible to study like regions without being brought to the

same ideas. I recollect myself the impression produced upon me by

the animal world of Siberia when I explored the Vitim regions in

the company of so accomplished a zoologist as my friend Polyakoff

was. We both were under the fresh impression of the Origin of

Species, but we vainly looked for the keen competition between

animals of the same species which the reading of Darwin's work

had prepared us to expect, even after taking into account the

remarks of the third chapter (p. 54). We saw plenty of

adaptations for struggling, very often in common, against the

adverse circumstances of climate, or against various enemies, and

Polyakoff wrote many a good page upon the mutual dependency of

carnivores, ruminants, and rodents in their geographical

distribution; we witnessed numbers of facts of mutual support,

especially during the migrations of birds and ruminants; but even

in the Amur and Usuri regions, where animal life swarms in

abundance, facts of real competition and struggle between higher

animals of the same species came very seldom under my notice,

though I eagerly searched for them. The same impression appears

in the works of most Russian zoologists, and it probably explains

why Kessler's ideas were so welcomed by the Russian Darwinists,

whilst like ideas are not in vogue amidst the followers of Darwin

in Western Europe.

The first thing which strikes us as soon as we begin studying

the struggle for existence under both its aspects -- direct and

metaphorical -- is the abundance of facts of mutual aid, not only

for rearing progeny, as recognized by most evolutionists, but

also for the safety of the individual, and for providing it with

the necessary food. With many large divisions of the animal

kingdom mutual aid is the rule. Mutual aid is met with even

amidst the lowest animals, and we must be prepared to learn some

day, from the students of microscopical pond-life, facts of

unconscious mutual support, even from the life of

micro-organisms. Of course, our knowledge of the life of the

invertebrates, save the termites, the ants, and the bees, is

extremely limited; and yet, even as regards the lower animals, we

may glean a few facts of well-ascertained cooperation. The

numberless associations of locusts, vanessae, cicindelae,

cicadae, and so on, are practically quite unexplored; but the

very fact of their existence indicates that they must be composed

on about the same principles as the temporary associations of

ants or bees for purposes of migration.5 As to the beetles, we

have quite well-observed facts of mutual help amidst the burying

beetles (Necrophorus). They must have some decaying organic

matter to lay their eggs in, and thus to provide their larvae

with food; but that matter must not decay very rapidly. So they

are wont to bury in the ground the corpses of all kinds of small

animals which they occasionally find in their rambles. As a rule,

they live an isolated life, but when one of them has discovered

the corpse of a mouse or of a bird, which it hardly could manage

to bury itself, it calls four, six, or ten other beetles to

perform the operation with united efforts; if necessary, they

transport the corpse to a suitable soft ground; and they bury it

in a very considerate way, without quarrelling as to which of

them will enjoy the privilege of laying its eggs in the buried

corpse. And when Gleditsch attached a dead bird to a cross made

out of two sticks, or suspended a toad to a stick planted in the

soil, the little beetles would in the same friendly way combine

their intelligences to overcome the artifice of Man. The same

combination of efforts has been noticed among the dung-beetles.

Even among animals standing at a somewhat lower stage of

organization we may find like examples. Some land-crabs of the

West Indies and North America combine in large swarms in order to

travel to the sea and to deposit therein their spawn; and each

such migration implies concert, co-operation, and mutual support.

As to the big Molucca crab (Limulus), I was struck (in 1882, at

the Brighton Aquarium) with the extent of mutual assistance which

these clumsy animals are capable of bestowing upon a comrade in

case of need. One of them had fallen upon its back in a corner of

the tank, and its heavy saucepan-like carapace prevented it from

returning to its natural position, the more so as there was in

the corner an iron bar which rendered the task still more

difficult. Its comrades came to the rescue, and for one hour's

time I watched how they endeavoured to help their

fellow-prisoner. They came two at once, pushed their friend from

beneath, and after strenuous efforts succeeded in lifting it

upright; but then the iron bar would prevent them from achieving

the work of rescue, and the crab would again heavily fall upon

its back. After many attempts, one of the helpers would go in the

depth of the tank and bring two other crabs, which would begin

with fresh forces the same pushing and lifting of their helpless

comrade. We stayed in the Aquarium for more than two hours, and,

when leaving, we again came to cast a glance upon the tank: the

work of rescue still continued! Since I saw that, I cannot refuse

credit to the observation quoted by Dr. Erasmus Darwin -- namely,

that "the common crab during the moulting season stations as

sentinel an unmoulted or hard-shelled individual to prevent

marine enemies from injuring moulted individuals in their

unprotected state."6

Facts illustrating mutual aid amidst the termites, the ants,

and the bees are so well known to the general reader, especially

through the works of Romanes, L. B?chner, and Sir John Lubbock,

that I may limit my remarks to a very few hints.7 If we take

an ants' nest, we not only see that every description of

work-rearing of progeny, foraging, building, rearing of aphides,

and so on -- is performed according to the principles of

voluntary mutual aid; we must also recognize, with Forel, that

the chief, the fundamental feature of the life of many species of

ants is the fact and the obligation for every ant of sharing its

food, already swallowed and partly digested, with every member of

the community which may apply for it. Two ants belonging to two

different species or to two hostile nests, when they occasionally

meet together, will avoid each other. But two ants belonging to

the same nest or to the same colony of nests will approach each

other, exchange a few movements with the antennae, and "if one of

them is hungry or thirsty, and especially if the other has its

crop full... it immediately asks for food." The individual thus

requested never refuses; it sets apart its mandibles, takes a

proper position, and regurgitates a drop of transparent fluid

which is licked up by the hungry ant. Regurgitating food for

other ants is so prominent a feature in the life of ants (at

liberty), and it so constantly recurs both for feeding hungry

comrades and for feeding larvae, that Forel considers the

digestive tube of the ants as consisting of two different parts,

one of which, the posterior, is for the special use of the

individual, and the other, the anterior part, is chiefly for the

use of the community. If an ant which has its crop full has been

selfish enough to refuse feeding a comrade, it will be treated as

an enemy, or even worse. If the refusal has been made while its

kinsfolk were fighting with some other species, they will fall

back upon the greedy individual with greater vehemence than even

upon the enemies themselves. And if an ant has not refused to

feed another ant belonging to an enemy species, it will be

treated by the kinsfolk of the latter as a friend. All this is

confirmed by most accurate observation and decisive


In that immense division of the animal kingdom which embodies

more than one thousand species, and is so numerous that the

Brazilians pretend that Brazil belongs to the ants, not to men,

competition amidst the members of the same nest, or the colony of

nests,does not exist. However terrible the wars between different

species, and whatever the atrocities committed at war-time,

mutual aid within the community, self-devotion grown into a

habit, and very often self-sacrifice for the common welfare, are

the rule. The ants and termites have renounced the "Hobbesian

war," and they are the better for it. Their wonderful nests,

their buildings, superior in relative size to those of man; their

paved roads and overground vaulted galleries; their spacious

halls and granaries; their corn-fields, harvesting and "malting"

of grain;9 their, rational methods of nursing their eggs and

larvae, and of building special nests for rearing the aphides

whom Linnaeus so picturesquely described as "the cows of the

ants"; and, finally, their courage, pluck, and, superior

intelligence -- all these are the natural outcome of the mutual

aid which they practise at every stage of their busy and

laborious lives. That mode of life also necessarily resulted in

the development of another essential feature of the life of ants:

the immense development of individual initiative which, in its

turn, evidently led to the development of that high and varied

intelligence which cannot but strike the human observer.10

If we knew no other facts from animal life than what we know

about the ants and the termites, we already might safely conclude

that mutual aid (which leads to mutual confidence, the first

condition for courage) and individual initiative (the first

condition for intellectual progress) are two factors infinitely

more important than mutual struggle in the evolution of the

animal kingdom. In fact, the ant thrives without having any of

the "protective" features which cannot be dispensed with by

animals living an isolated life. Its colour renders it

conspicuous to its enemies, and the lofty nests of many species

are conspicuous in the meadows and forests. It is not protected

by a hard carapace, and its stinging apparatus, however dangerous

when hundreds of stings are plunged into the flesh of an animal,

is not of a great value for individual defence; while the eggs

and larvae of the ants are a dainty for a great number of the

inhabitants of the forests. And yet the ants, in their thousands,

are not much destroyed by the birds, not even by the ant-eaters,

and they are dreaded by most stronger insects. When Forel emptied

a bagful of ants in a meadow, he saw that "the crickets ran away,

abandoning their holes to be sacked by the ants; the grasshoppers

and the crickets fled in all directions; the spiders and the

beetles abandoned their prey in order not to become prey

themselves; "even the nests of the wasps were taken by the ants,

after a battle during which many ants perished for the safety of

the commonwealth. Even the swiftest insects cannot escape, and

Forel often saw butterflies, gnats, flies, and so on, surprised

and killed by the ants. Their force is in mutual support and

mutual confidence. And if the ant -- apart from the still higher

developed termites -- stands at the very top of the whole class

of insects for its intellectual capacities; if its courage is

only equalled by the most courageous vertebrates; and if its

brain -- to use Darwin's words -- "is one of the most marvellous

atoms of matter in the world, perhaps more so than the brain of

man," is it not due to the fact that mutual aid has entirely

taken the place of mutual struggle in the communities of ants?

The same is true as regards the bees. These small insects,

which so easily might become the prey of so many birds, and whose

honey has so many admirers in all classes of animals from the

beetle to the bear, also have none of the protective features

derived from mimicry or otherwise, without which an isolatedly

living insect hardly could escape wholesale destruction; and yet,

owing to the mutual aid they practise, they obtain the wide

extension which we know and the intelligence we admire, By

working in common they multiply their individual forces; by

resorting to a temporary division of labour combined with the

capacity of each bee to perform every kind of work when required,

they attain such a degree of well-being and safety as no isolated

animal can ever expect to achieve however strong or well armed it

may be. In their combinations they are often more successful than

man, when he neglects to take advantage of a well-planned mutual

assistance. Thus, when a new swarm of bees is going to leave the

hive in search of a new abode, a number of bees will make a

preliminary exploration of the neighbourhood, and if they

discover a convenient dwelling-place -- say, an old basket, or

anything of the kind -- they will take possession of it, clean

it, and guard it, sometimes for a whole week, till the swarm

comes to settle therein. But how many human settlers will perish

in new countries simply for not having understood the necessity

of combining their efforts! By combining their individual

intelligences they succeed in coping with adverse circumstances,

even quite unforeseen and unusual, like those bees of the Paris

Exhibition which fastened with their resinous propolis the

shutter to a glass-plate fitted in the wall of their hive.

Besides, they display none of the sanguinary proclivities and

love of useless fighting with which many writers so readily endow

animals. The sentries which guard the entrance to the hive

pitilessly put to death the robbing bees which attempt entering

the hive; but those stranger bees which come to the hive by

mistake are left unmolested, especially if they come laden with

pollen, or are young individuals which can easily go astray.

There is no more warfare than is strictly required.

The sociability of the bees is the more instructive as

predatory instincts and laziness continue to exist among the bees

as well, and reappear each. time that their growth is favoured by

some circumstances. It is well known that there always are a

number of bees which prefer a life of robbery to the laborious

life of a worker; and that both periods of scarcity and periods

of an unusually rich supply of food lead to an increase of the

robbing class. When our crops are in and there remains but little

to gather in our meadows and fields, robbing bees become of more

frequent occurrence; while, on the other side, about the sugar

plantations of the West Indies and the sugar refineries of

Europe, robbery, laziness, and very often drunkenness become

quite usual with the bees. We thus see that anti-social instincts

continue to exist amidst the bees as well; but natural selection

continually must eliminate them, because in the long run the

practice of solidarity proves much more advantageous to the

species than the development of individuals endowed with

predatory inclinations. The cunningest and the shrewdest are

eliminated in favour of those who understand the advantages of

sociable life and mutual support.

Certainly, neither the ants, nor the bees, nor even the

termites, have risen to the conception of a higher solidarity

embodying the whole of the species. In that respect they

evidently have not attained a degree of development which we do

not find even among our political, scientific, and religious

leaders. Their social instincts hardly extend beyond the limits

of the hive or the nest. However, colonies of no less than two

hundred nests, belonging to two different species (Formica

exsecta and F. pressilabris) have been described by Forel on

Mount Tendre and Mount Sal?ve; and Forel maintains that each

member of these colonies recognizes every other member of the

colony, and that they all take part in common defence; while in

Pennsylvania Mr. MacCook saw a whole nation of from 1,600 to

1,700 nests of the mound-making ant, all living in perfect

intelligence; and Mr. Bates has described the hillocks of the

termites covering large surfaces in the "campos" -- some of the

nests being the refuge of two or three different species, and

most of them being connected by vaulted galleries or

arcades.11 Some steps towards the amalgamation of larger

divisions of the species for purposes of mutual protection are

thus met with even among the invertebrate animals.

Going now over to higher animals, we find far more instances

of undoubtedly conscious mutual help for all possible purposes,

though we must recognize at once that our knowledge even of the

life of higher animals still remains very imperfect. A large

number of facts have been accumulated by first-rate observers,

but there are whole divisions of the animal kingdom of which we

know almost nothing. Trustworthy information as regards fishes is

extremely scarce, partly owing to the difficulties of

observation, and partly because no proper attention has yet been

paid to the subject. As to the mammalia, Kessler already remarked

how little we know about their manners of life. Many of them are

nocturnal in their habits; others conceal themselves underground;

and those ruminants whose social life and migrations offer the

greatest interest do not let man approach their herds. It is

chiefly upon birds that we have the widest range of information,

and yet the social life of very many species remains but

imperfectly known. Still, we need not complain about the lack of

well-ascertained facts, as will be seen from the following.

I need not dwell upon the associations of male and female for

rearing their offspring, for providing it with food during their

first steps in life, or for hunting in common; though it may be

mentioned by the way that such associations are the rule even

with the least sociable carnivores and rapacious birds; and that

they derive a special interest from being the field upon which

tenderer feelings develop even amidst otherwise most cruel

animals. It may also be added that the rarity of associations

larger than that of the family among the carnivores and the birds

of prey, though mostly being the result of their very modes of

feeding, can also be explained to some extent as a consequence of

the change produced in the animal world by the rapid increase of

mankind. At any rate it is worthy of note that there are species

living a quite isolated life in densely-inhabited regions, while

the same species, or their nearest congeners, are gregarious in

uninhabited countries. Wolves, foxes, and several birds of prey

may be quoted as instances in point.

However, associations which do not extend beyond the family

bonds are of relatively small importance in our case, the more so

as we know numbers of associations for more general purposes,

such as hunting, mutual protection, and even simple enjoyment of

life. Audubon already mentioned that eagles occasionally

associate for hunting, and his description of the two bald

eagles, male and female, hunting on the Mississippi, is well

known for its graphic powers. But one of the most conclusive

observations of the kind belongs to Syevertsoff. Whilst studying

the fauna of the Russian Steppes, he once saw an eagle belonging

to an altogether gregarious species (the white-tailed eagle,

Haliactos albicilla) rising high in the air for half an hour it

was describing its wide circles in silence when at once its

piercing voice was heard. Its cry was soon answered by another

eagle which approached it, and was followed by a third, a fourth,

and so on, till nine or ten eagles came together and soon

disappeared. In the afternoon, Syevertsoff went to the place

whereto he saw the eagles flying; concealed by one of the

undulations of the Steppe, he approached them, and discovered

that they had gathered around the corpse of a horse. The old

ones, which, as a rule, begin the meal first -- such are their

rules of propriety-already were sitting upon the haystacks of the

neighbourhood and kept watch, while the younger ones were

continuing the meal, surrounded by bands of crows. From this and

like observations, Syevertsoff concluded that the white-tailed

eagles combine for hunting; when they all have risen to a great

height they are enabled, if they are ten, to survey an area of at

least twenty-five miles square; and as soon as any one has

discovered something, he warns the others.12 Of course, it

might be argued that a simple instinctive cry of the first eagle,

or even its movements, would have had the same effect of bringing

several eagles to the prey. but in this case there is strong

evidence in favour of mutual warning, because the ten eagles came

together before descending towards the prey, and Syevertsoff had

later on several opportunities of ascertaining that the

whitetailed eagles always assemble for devouring a corpse, and

that some of them (the younger ones first) always keep watch

while the others are eating. In fact, the white-tailed eagle --

one of the bravest and best hunters -- is a gregarious bird

altogether, and Brehm says that when kept in captivity it very

soon contracts an attachment to its keepers.

Sociability is a common feature with very many other birds of

prey. The Brazilian kite, one of the most "impudent" robbers, is

nevertheless a most sociable bird. Its hunting associations have

been described by Darwin and other naturalists, and it is a fact

that when it has seized upon a prey which is too big, it calls

together five or six friends to carry it away. After a busy day,

when these kites retire for their night-rest to a tree or to the

bushes, they always gather in bands, sometimes coming together

from distances of ten or more miles, and they often are joined by

several other vultures, especially the percnopters, "their true

friends," D'Orbigny says. In another continent, in the

Transcaspian deserts, they have, according to Zarudnyi, the same

habit of nesting together. The sociable vulture, one of the

strongest vultures, has received its very name from its love of

society. They live in numerous bands, and decidedly enjoy

society; numbers of them join in their high flights for sport.

"They live in very good friendship," Le Vaillant says, "and in

the same cave I sometimes found as many as three nests close

together."13 The Urub? vultures of Brazil are as, or perhaps

even more, sociable than rooks.14 The little Egyptian vultures

live in close friendship. They play in bands in the air, they

come together to spend the night, and in the morning they all go

together to search for their food, and never does the slightest

quarrel arise among them; such is the testimony of Brehm, who had

plenty of opportunities of observing their life. The red-throated

falcon is also met with in numerous bands in the forests of

Brazil, and the kestrel (Tinnunculus cenchris), when it has left

Europe, and has reached in the winter the prairies and forests of

Asia, gathers in numerous societies. In the Steppes of South

Russia it is (or rather was) so sociable that Nordmann saw them

in numerous bands, with other falcons (Falco tinnunculus, F.

oesulon, and F. subbuteo), coming together every fine afternoon

about four o'clock, and enjoying their sports till late in the

night. They set off flying, all at once, in a quite straight

line, towards some determined point, and. having reached it,

immediately returned over the same line, to repeat the same


To take flights in flocks for the mere pleasure of the

flight, is quite common among all sorts of birds. "In the Humber

district especially," Ch. Dixon writes, "vast flights of dunlins

often appear upon the mud-flats towards the end of August, and

remain for the winter.... The movements of these birds are most

interesting, as a vast flock wheels and spreads out or closes up

with as much precision as drilled troops. Scattered among them

are many odd stints and sanderlings and ringed-plovers."16

It would be quite impossible to enumerate here the various

hunting associations of birds; but the fishing associations of

the pelicans are certainly worthy of notice for the remarkable

order and intelligence displayed by these clumsy birds. They

always go fishing in numerous bands, and after having chosen an

appropriate bay, they form a wide half-circle in face of the

shore, and narrow it by paddling towards the shore, catching all

fish that happen to be enclosed in the circle. On narrow rivers

and canals they even divide into two parties, each of which draws

up on a half-circle, and both paddle to meet each other, just as

if two parties of men dragging two long nets should advance to

capture all fish taken between the nets when both parties come to

meet. As the night comes they fly to their resting-places --

always the same for each flock -- and no one has ever seen them

fighting for the possession of either the bay or the resting

place. In South America they gather in flocks of from forty to

fifty thousand individuals, part of which enjoy sleep while the

others keep watch, and others again go fishing.17 And finally,

I should be doing an injustice to the much-calumniated

house-sparrows if I did not mention how faithfully each of them

shares any food it discovers with all members of the society to

which it belongs. The fact was known to the Greeks, and it has

been transmitted to posterity how a Greek orator once exclaimed

(I quote from memory): -- "While I am speaking to you a sparrow

has come to tell to other sparrows that a slave has dropped on

the floor a sack of corn, and they all go there to feed upon the

grain." The more, one is pleased to find this observation of old

confirmed in a recent little book by Mr. Gurney, who does not

doubt that the house sparrows always inform each other as to

where there is some food to steal; he says, "When a stack has

been thrashed ever so far from the yard, the sparrows in the yard

have always had their crops full of the grain."18 True, the

sparrows are extremely particular in keeping their domains free

from the invasions of strangers; thus the sparrows of the Jardin

du Luxembourg bitterly fight all other sparrows which may attempt

to enjoy their turn of the garden and its visitors; but within

their own communities they fully practise mutual support, though

occasionally there will be of course some quarrelling even

amongst the best friends.

Hunting and feeding in common is so much the habit in the

feathered world that more quotations hardly would be needful: it

must be considered as an established fact. As to the force

derived from such associations, it is self-evident. The strongest

birds of prey are powerless in face of the associations of our

smallest bird pets. Even eagles -- even the powerful and terrible

booted eagle, and the martial eagle, which is strong enough to

carry away a hare or a young antelope in its claws -- are

compelled to abandon their prey to bands of those beggars the

kites, which give the eagle a regular chase as soon as they see

it in possession of a good prey. The kites will also give chase

to the swift fishing-hawk, and rob it of the fish it has

captured; but no one ever saw the kites fighting together for the

possession of the prey so stolen. On the Kerguelen Island, Dr.

Cou?s saw the gulls to Buphogus -- the sea-hen of the sealers --

pursue make them disgorge their food, while, on the other side,

the gulls and the terns combined to drive away the sea-hen as

soon as it came near to their abodes, especially at

nesting-time.19 The little, but extremely swift lapwings

(Vanellus cristatus) boldly attack the birds of prey. "To see

them attacking a buzzard, a kite, a crow, or an eagle, is one of

the most amusing spectacles. One feels that they are sure of

victory, and one sees the anger of the bird of prey. In such

circumstances they perfectly support one another, and their

courage grows with their numbers.20 The lapwing has well

merited the name of a "good mother" which the Greeks gave to it,

for it never fails to protect other aquatic birds from the

attacks of their enemies. But even the little white wagtails

(Motacilla alba), whom we well know in our gardens and whose

whole length hardly attains eight inches, compel the sparrow-hawk

to abandon its hunt. "I often admired their courage and agility,"

the old Brehm wrote, "and I am persuaded that the falcon alone is

capable of capturing any of them.... When a band of wagtails has

compelled a bird of prey to retreat, they make the air resound

with their triumphant cries, and after that they separate. "They

thus come together for the special purpose of giving chase to

their enemy, just as we see it when the whole bird-population of

a forest has been raised by the news that a nocturnal bird has

made its appearance during the day, and all together -- birds of

prey and small inoffensive singers -- set to chase the stranger

and make it return to its concealment.

What an immense difference between the force of a kite, a

buzzard or a hawk, and such small birds as the meadow-wagtail;

and yet these little birds, by their common action and courage,

prove superior to the powerfully-winged and armed robbers! In

Europe, the wagtails not only chase the birds of prey which might

be dangerous to them, but they chase also the fishing-hawk

"rather for fun than for doing it any harm;" while in India,

according to Dr. Jerdon's testimony, the jackdaws chase the

gowinda-kite "for simple matter of amusement." Prince Wied saw

the Brazilian eagle urubitinga surrounded by numberless flocks of

toucans and cassiques (a bird nearly akin to our rook), which

mocked it. "The eagle," he adds, "usually supports these insults

very quietly, but from time to time it will catch one of these

mockers." In all such cases the little birds, though very much

inferior in force to the bird of prey, prove superior to it by

their common action.21

However, the most striking effects of common life for the

security of the individual, for its enjoyment of life, and for

the development of its intellectual capacities, are seen in two

great families of birds, the cranes and the parrots. The cranes

are extremely sociable and live in most excellent relations, not

only with their congeners, but also with most aquatic birds.

Their prudence is really astonishing, so also their intelligence;

they grasp the new conditions in a moment, and act accordingly.

Their sentries always keep watch around a flock which is feeding

or resting, and the hunters know well how difficult it is to

approach them. If man has succeeded in surprising them, they will

never return to the same place without having sent out one single

scout first, and a party of scouts afterwards; and when the

reconnoitring party returns and reports that there is no danger,

a second group of scouts is sent out to verify the first report,

before the whole band moves. With kindred species the cranes

contract real friendship; and in captivity there is no bird, save

the also sociable and highly intelligent parrot, which enters

into such real friendship with man. "It sees in man, not a

master, but a friend, and endeavours to manifest it," Brehm

concludes from a wide personal experience. The crane is in

continual activity from early in the morning till late in the

night; but it gives a few hours only in the morning to the task

of searching its food, chiefly vegetable. All the remainder of

the day is given to society life. "It picks up small pieces of

wood or small stones, throws them in the air and tries to catch

them; it bends its neck, opens its wings, dances, jumps, runs

about, and tries to manifest by all means its good disposition of

mind, and always it remains graceful and beautiful."22 As it

lives in society it has almost no enemies, and though Brehm

occasionally saw one of them captured by a crocodile, he wrote

that except the crocodile he knew no enemies of the crane. It

eschews all of them by its proverbial prudence; and it attains,

as a rule, a very old age. No wonder that for the maintenance of

the species the crane need not rear a numerous offspring; it

usually hatches but two eggs. As to its superior intelligence, it

is sufficient to say that all observers are unanimous in

recognizing that its intellectual capacities remind one very much

of those of man.

The other extremely sociable bird, the parrot, stands, as

known, at the very top of the whole feathered world for the

development of its intelligence. Brehm has so admirably summed up

the manners of life of the parrot, that I cannot do better than

translate the following sentence: --

"Except in the pairing season, they live in very numerous

societies or bands. They choose a place in the forest to stay

there, and thence they start every morning for their hunting

expeditions. The members of each band remain faithfully attached

to each other, and they share in common good or bad luck. All

together they repair in the morning to a field, or to a garden,

or to a tree, to feed upon fruits. They post sentries to keep

watch over the safety of the whole band, and are attentive to

their warnings. In case of danger, all take to flight, mutually

supporting each other, and all simultaneously return to their

resting-place. In a word, they always live closely united."

They enjoy society of other birds as well. In India, the jays

and crows come together from many miles round, to spend the night

in company with the parrots in the bamboo thickets. When the

parrots start hunting, they display the most wonderful

intelligence, prudence, and capacity of coping with

circumstances. Take, for instance, a band of white cacadoos in

Australia. Before starting to plunder a corn-field, they first

send out a reconnoitring party which occupies the highest trees

in the vicinity of the field, while other scouts perch upon the

intermediate trees between the field and the forest and transmit

the signals. If the report runs "All right," a score of cacadoos

will separate from the bulk of the band, take a flight in the

air, and then fly towards the trees nearest to the field. They

also will scrutinize the neighbourhood for a long while, and only

then will they give the signal for general advance, after which

the whole band starts at once and plunders the field in no time.

The Australian settlers have the greatest difficulties in

beguiling the prudence of the parrots; but if man, with all his

art and weapons, has succeeded in killing some of them, the

cacadoos become so prudent and watchful that they henceforward

baffle all stratagems.23

There can be no doubt that it is the practice of life in

society which enables the parrots to attain that very high level

of almost human intelligence and almost human feelings which we

know in them. Their high intelligence has induced the best

naturalists to describe some species, namely the grey parrot, as

the "birdman." As to their mutual attachment it is known that

when a parrot has been killed by a hunter, the others fly over

the corpse of their comrade with shrieks of complaints and

"themselves fall the victims of their friendship," as Audubon

said; and when two captive parrots, though belonging to two

different species, have contracted mutual friendship, the

accidental death of one of the two friends has sometimes been

followed by the death from grief and sorrow of the other friend.

It is no less evident that in their societies they find

infinitely more protection than they possibly might find in any

ideal development of beak and claw. Very few birds of prey or

mammals dare attack any but the smaller species of parrots, and

Brehm is absolutely right in saying of the parrots, as he also

says of the cranes and the sociable monkeys, that they hardly

have any enemies besides men; and he adds: "It is most probable

that the larger parrots succumb chiefly to old age rather than

die from the claws of any enemies." Only man, owing to his still

more superior intelligence and weapons, also derived from

association, succeeds in partially destroying them. Their very

longevity would thus appear as a result of their social life.

Could we not say the same as regards their wonderful memory,

which also must be favoured in its development by society -- life

and by longevity accompanied by a full enjoyment of bodily and

mental faculties till a very old age?

As seen from the above, the war of each against all is not

the law of nature. Mutual aid is as much a law of nature as

mutual struggle, and that law will become still more apparent

when we have analyzed some other associations of birds and those

of the mammalia. A few hints as to the importance of the law of

mutual aid for the evolution of the animal kingdom have already

been given in the preceding pages; but their purport will still

better appear when, after having given a few more illustrations,

we shall be enabled presently to draw therefrom our conclusions.


1 Origin of Species, chap. iii.
2 Nineteenth Century, Feb. 1888, p. 165.
3 Leaving aside the pre-Darwinian writers, like Toussenel, F?e,
and many others, several works containing many striking instances
of mutual aid -- chiefly, however, illustrating animal
intelligence were issued previously to that date. I may mention
those of Houzeau, Les facult?s etales des animaux, 2 vols.,
Brussels, 1872; L. B?chner's Aus dem Geistesleben der Thiere, 2nd
ed. in 1877; and Maximilian Perty's Ueber das Seelenleben der
Thiere, Leipzig, 1876. Espinas published his most remarkable
work, Les Soci?t?s animales, in 1877, and in that work he pointed
out the importance of animal societies, and their bearing upon
the preservation of species, and entered upon a most valuable
discussion of the origin of societies. In fact, Espinas's book
contains all that has been written since upon mutual aid, and
many good things besides. If I nevertheless make a special
mention of Kessler's address, it is because he raised mutual aid
to the height of a law much more important in evolution than the
law of mutual struggle. The same ideas were developed next year
(in April 1881) by J. Lanessan in a lecture published in 1882
under this title: La lutte pour l'existence et l'association pour
la lutte. G. Romanes's capital work, Animal Intelligence, was
issued in 1882, and followed next year by the Mental Evolution in
Animals. About the same time (1883), B?chner published another
work, Liebe und Liebes-Leben in der Thierwelt, a second edition
of which was issued in 1885. The idea, as seen, was in the air.
4 Memoirs (Trudy) of the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists,
vol. xi. 1880.
5 See Appendix I.
6 George J. Romanes's Animal Intelligence, 1st ed. p. 233.
7 Pierre Huber's Les fourmis indig?es, G?n?ve, 1861; Forel's
Recherches sur les fourmis de la Suisse, Zurich, 1874, and J.T.
Moggridge's Harvesting Ants and Trapdoor Spiders, London, 1873
and 1874, ought to be in the hands of every boy and girl. See
also: Blanchard's M?tamorphoses des Insectes, Paris, 1868; J.H.
Fabre's Souvenirs entomologiques, Paris, 1886; Ebrard's Etudes
des moeurs des fourmis, G?n?ve, 1864; Sir John Lubbock's Ants,
Bees, and Wasps, and so on.
8 Forel's Recherches, pp. 244, 275, 278. Huber's description of
the process is admirable. It also contains a hint as to the
possible origin of the instinct (popular edition, pp. 158, 160).
See Appendix II.
9 The agriculture of the ants is so wonderful that for a long
time it has been doubted. The fact is now so well proved by Mr.
Moggridge, Dr. Lincecum, Mr. MacCook, Col. Sykes, and Dr. Jerdon,
that no doubt is possible. See an excellent summary of evidence
in Mr. Romanes's work. See also Die Pilzgaerten einiger
S?d-Amerikanischen Ameisen, by Alf. Moeller, in Schimper's Botan.
Mitth. aus den Tropen, vi. 1893.
10 This second principle was not recognized at once. Former
observers often spoke of kings, queens, managers, and so on; but
since Huber and Forel have published their minute observations,
no doubt is possible as to the free scope left for every
individual's initiative in whatever the ants do, including their
11 H.W. Bates, The Naturalist on the River Amazons, ii. 59 seq.
12 N. Syevertsoff, Periodical Phenomena in the Life of Mammalia,
Birds, and Reptiles of Voron?je, Moscow, 1855 (in Russian).
13 A. Brehm, Life of Animals, iii. 477; all quotations after the
French edition.
14 Bates, p. 151.
15 Catalogue raisonn? des oiseaux de la faune pontique, in
D?midoff's Voyage; abstracts in Brehm, iii. 360. During their
migrations birds of prey often associate. One flock, which H.
Seebohm saw crossing the Pyrenees, represented a curious
assemblage of "eight kites, one crane, and a peregrine falcon"
(The Birds of Siberia, 1901, p. 417).
16 Birds in the Northern Shires, p. 207.
17 Max. Perty, Ueber das Seelenleben der Thiere (Leipzig, 1876),
pp. 87, 103.
18 G. H. Gurney, The House-Sparrow (London, 1885), p. 5.
19 Dr. Elliot Cou?s, Birds of the Kerguelen Island, in
Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. xiii. No. 2, p. 11.
20 Brehm, iv. 567.
21 As to the house-sparrows, a New Zealand observer, Mr. T.W.
Kirk, described as follows the attack of these "impudent" birds
upon an "unfortunate" hawk. -- "He heard one day a most unusual
noise, as though all the small birds of the country had joined in
one grand quarrel. Looking up, he saw a large hawk (C. gouldi --
a carrion feeder) being buffeted by a flock of sparrows. They
kept dashing at him in scores, and from all points at once. The
unfortunate hawk was quite powerless. At last, approaching some
scrub, the hawk dashed into it and remained there, while the
sparrows congregated in groups round the bush, keeping up a
constant chattering and noise" (Paper read before the New Zealand
Institute; Nature, Oct. 10, 1891).
22 Brehm, iv. 671 seq.
23 R. Lendenfeld, in Der zoologische Garten, 1889.