Everybody you know has a unique personality. Some of us are shy, hyper, optimistic, caring, awkward, friendly, smart, or talkative…the list goes on. And our personalities are complicated – each of us can be described with many different words, or traits. It’s the combination of these traits that makes you who you are. But do other animals have personalities too?
The answer is yes, animals do have personalities! But we don’t usually call them personalities – instead, we say animals have “behavioral syndromes.” A behavioral syndrome is just a fancy name for personality; a syndrome is a set of behavioral traits that an animal always has, and that doesn’t change when a situation changes. For example, a lizard may be particularly bold. When she encounters anything new, such as a different lizard, a new budding flower, or even a human trying to catch her, she will investigate it without fear. Another lizard may be more shy, running to hide from everything. And a third lizard may be shy sometimes, and bold other times.
Whether a lizard has a shy syndrome or a bold syndrome can affect the lizard’s life in many ways. A very bold and fearless lizard that explores new perches and displays to other lizards he meets may attract a lot of mates and find lots of food. But, it may also attract unwanted attention from birds or cats who want to eat it. On the other hand, a very shy lizard that hides from anything new may have a hard time finding food and mates, but it may never encounter potential predators.
Just like with people’s personalities, we can use lots of different words to describe differences in animal behavioral syndromes. In addition to being bold or shy, animals can also be aggressive or cooperative, or social or antisocial. So next time you’re playing outside and you see a lizard or bird or spider or fish, think about the behaviors you watch that animal perform. What type of personality does it have?
If you’d like to read more about animal personalities, check out: https://sihlab.wordpress.com/behavioral-syndromes/.