How Wild Animals Cope with Stress
Humans are not the only animals that suffer from an overload of stress. Animals from our pets to lizards and songbirds to wild beasts can experience stressful and challenging situations that actually can have long-lasting impacts of them. Just as young children can have lifelong consequences from Early Life Stress (ELS), so can a rare Colorado checkered whiptail lizard stress eat in response to noise. In fact, the similarities to humans includes passing on trauma to the next generation. Just as pregnant mothers who are super- stressed and anxious during pregnancy can affect the performance of their offspring (generational trauma), the same passing of the trauma has been identified in some species, like small fresh water fish.
Many of us overeat to stress. Or, we drink too much coffee. Or, maybe we drink too much of other substances that are bad for our health. Some of us have developed life threatening habits, like smoking, and the response to increase stress is to light up.
A new study involving the rare Colorado checkered whiptail lizard discovered that part of their habitat is an army base. Low flying aircraft regularly fly in and out of the base producing sounds that are much louder than the lizards experience naturally and the result is almost continuing stress for the species. The study took blood from some of the lizards and found that during flyovers they released more cortisol – yes, our old friend, Cortisol – and they ate more and moved less.
Sleep is important for all animals, human and non-human. Sleep deprivation is a definite form of stress. The effects of sleep deprivation on animals is actually studied even in fruit flies and bees. Fruit flies, for instance, sleep less and eat more when subjected to social isolation. Sleep deprived mice eat more. Butterflies who don’t get enough rest/sleep have been known to even lay their eggs on the wrong types of plants. And, some bee species who are sleep deprived perform their waggle dances with less precision. The “waggle dance” of a bee is their equivalent of a GPS. So a sleep deprived bee who is supposed to be communicating with the rest of the hive as to the direction of food could be off in the directions they are giving the others.
It is not just sleep deprivation or too much noise or too much heat or rain that can cause stress in animals. The presence of predators obviously makes animals nervous. And, that goes for most humans, too.