So, you think you can dance?
Animals dance, too. They don’t all do it quite the same way we do, but they often shake their stuff for the same reasons (showing off for the opposite sex) and sometimes for vastly more complex ones. See our list of animals with smooth moves.
Red-Capped Manakin Bird
The first time the world saw Michael Jackson moonwalk (3:37) we went collectively bananas, wondering if we really saw what we thought we saw.
The first time you see video of the red-capped manakin bird ((Pipra mentalis) doing the moonwalk you’ll probably think the exact same thing. The red-capped manakin lives in Central and South American and the males do this fancy footwork to attract females.
Males congregate in courtship displays called leks, where each will choose an easily seen perch (their stage for the whole mating season).
There they will pivot, moonwalk, circle in flight, and show off their neon yellow leggings. They’ll even provide a little sound with the show, snapping, flapping and buzzing, which the ladies might enjoy but which is also a signal to wards off rivals. It’s a big display for a bird that only weighs about 15 grams (about a half an ounce, or as much as about six pennies).
Another heavenly hoofer is the itsy bitsy peacock spider, Maratus volans. The male is only 0.1 inch (55 millimeters) long but puts on the most thrilling dance since Thriller, with spins, bows, and a brilliantly colored abdominal fan.
He waves this ornament at the female while intermittently vibrating, like a peacock displaying his spectacular tail (only peacocks, to the best of our knowledge, don’t do jazz hands). To some people the fans distinctly suggest facial features, almost like a colorful tribal mask. To the more drably colored female peacock spiders it probably just looks hot (who doesn’t like a man who can dance?)
Color, rhythm, and it can jump 40 times its body length - this is a happening spider. See? When you’ve got style size doesn’t matter.
You (well, most of you) have a skill called entrainment, meaning you’re able to move in sync with a beat. In fact, sometimes you probably can’t help yourself.
In these amazing videos, Snowball, the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) and Alex, the late and famously intelligent African gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus) seem like they can’t help themselves either.
Having rhythm was thought by many to be a purely human trait, but these birds show that’s probably not the case. Researchers Aniruddh Patel and Adena Schachner who were studying Snowball and Alex respectively found that both birds showed evidence of truly having rhythm: They adjusted to tempo changes and responded to music that was new to them. (Related: “Birds Can Dance, Experts (And Zany Videos) Reveal.“)
Both teams think “vocal learning,” the ability to imitate sounds, which requires coordination between hearing and motor skills, is key to entrainment. Schachner’s research team reviewed YouTube videos of “dancing” animals and found that only those with vocal learning seemed to show evidence of entrainment, including parrots and the Asian elephant. (Also watch a video of a sea lion bopping to the beat.)
Add to wish list: video of a elephant foot-stompin’ (like Snowball) to Another One Bites the Dust.
Snowball and Alex just seem to like bopping to the beat, but it seems like when most animals dance what they’re trying to say is “Let’s get it on.”
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are they exception. They shake their booties to communicate something more along the lines of “There’s a field of goldenrod a quarter mile south of here that’s full of pollen. Let’s go!”
The bees perform their famous “waggle dance” when they’ve scouted out a source of pollen and need to let their sisters know where it is so they can help collect it; different motions in the dance indicate direction and distance, and the pollen she returns with tells the type of flowers the bees can expect.
Bees also dance to decide on a new home and one bee will “head butt” another bee if they disagree with the information being communicated (if, for example, a suggested location for food collection is dangerous). (Related: “Are Honey Bees Losing Their Way?”)
Try that at your next staff meeting.
Birds of Paradise
Imagine if Salvador Dali, Dr. Seuss, and Bob Fosse collaborated on a species of bird.
One look at the birds of paradise and it will seem as though they did.
There are 39 species of birds of paradise, and thanks to a combined eight-year effort of scientist Ed Scholes of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman, all 39 were captured on film for the first time in the Birds of Paradise Project. The colorful birds exist only in New Guinea, its nearby islands, and parts of Australia, and they all evolved from one bird that looked like a crow.
Then there’s the superb bird of paradise.
This bird, Lophorina superba, actually morphs itself into a mask and hops around in a way that’s so spellbinding and hilarious that if you see anything more bizarre today you’re in a cartoon.
Maybe the females not only like a guy who can dance, but one who can make them laugh.