Day 1: Umwelt
The modern science of animal behavior was founded by German ethologists who coined a word “umwelt”, literally, the “world unto” an organism, the way it perceives the world. We humans have a limited color vision, a pretty good sense of hearing, and (compared with some other animals) rudimentary senses of smell and touch. We will never understand how it is like to be an ant, or a tree, or a paramecium. Those organisms have their own lives, and perceive the world in radically different ways than we do. But we can still learn about how they perceive the world, and this information will get us somewhat closer to understanding these organisms.
Video: “How Animals and People See the World Differently (NatGeo)” (2:42)
Things too slow, too fast, or too small in the natural world can escape our notice. Technology can help us appreciate them, as this video demonstrates. Not all of it is relevant to natural history, as some parts are focused rather on us humans and our use of technology—but still, the central message is the exploration of nature:
Video: “Hidden miracles of the natural world (Louie Schwartzberg)” (7:24)
Bats are mammals like us, but they experience the world in a very different way, especially because they fly and they hear sounds at much higher pitches than we can. In this audio program, biologist Kate Jones tells us about what she’s learned about bats across her many years of focused research:
Audio: “Kate Jones on Bats and Biodiversity (BBC Life Scientific)” (27:54)
Try to imagine how the organisms you watch today perceive the world. Do they move, or are they anchored to the ground? What senses do they have? Can you, through your observations, gain any insight into their umwelt? Watch how organisms notice each other and notice you.