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Monday, September 25, 2006

Book review: Norbert Smith's Passive Fear: The alternative to fight or flight

We’ve all heard about fight or flight. Every popular science pundit can explain it But are those the animal’s only options?

How Smith, now retired, got into wildlife zoology, after a boyhood spent with animals, is a story in itself: Out collecting frogs and snakes with his graduate Ecology class at Baylor, he noticed the distinctive eye-shine of an alligator. He offered to catch the class an alligator, an offer they dismissed because they had not even seen it and he was the newest student, from Oklahoma. But, he recounts, "Undaunted, I called the alligator by imitating the grunting alarm call of young alligators and splashed my hand in the water. The alligator immediately swam midway across the pond toward me. It swam right up to my feet and I jumped on it." He was able to demonstrate interesting adaptations of alligators for the class, but - much more - he could actually bring them in. That got his profs’ attention.

What got Smith's attention was the discovery that many species of reptiles and mammals have a third option when threatened: Instead of fighting or fleeing, they drastically lower their metabolism and wait it out. What's really interesting about Smith's finding is how it went against all the textbooks and it could never have been made in a lab.

Read more here.

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