Personalities and lateralization

Collaboration: Behavioural Biologist Prof. dr. A.G.G.Ton Groothuis from the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, Groningen

This winter (2016-2017) I started a pilot project in collaboration with Behavioural Biologist Prof. dr. A.G.G.Ton Groothuis. We want to investigate if certain Great Grey Shrikes (Lanius excubitor) have there own personality and preference for the way they fix their prey and how these activities are lateralized (asymmetrical in terms of preference for leg and eye).

Lateralization of brain and behavior and personality are properties that until recently were seen as unique to humans. Recent ly research has indicated that both of them, however, have a fundamental property in the organization of brain and behaviour of animals and possible interrelation. The man seems almost unique in that on population level. There is a vast majority that is  lateralized in the same direction, such as right handed. One of the evolutionary explanations is that the degree of population bias in lateralization positive linked to the frequency of tool use. The Great Grey Shrike is a species of bird that capture large animal preys and cache them by impaling or wedging it to objects in the environment.

In the Laniidae, vertebrate prey is impaled on sharp objects, decapitated and, in most cases, the brain consumed before other body parts (Reuven Yosef, unpublished data). Impaling is defined as the skewering of prey on a sharp projection; “wedging” is the placing of the item in the fork of a substrate (branch, barbed wire, etc.) that allows the predator to manipulate and feed on a prey item. In some cases, while the predator attempts to wedge the prey it may be accidentally impaled on a sharp projection, but intentional and systematic impaling, as it occurs in the true shrikes has not been documented in any non-Laniidaen bird species. Both wedging and impaling are considered tools that facilitate dismemberment of prey at lower energetic costs to the predator ( Schon, 1994; Cade, 1995, R. Yosef, B. Pinshow, 2005).

The aim of the project is to see (1) the extent of this behavior is lateralized on an individual level, (2) at the population level (3) and is linked to personality properties. Next winter (2017-2018) we will officially start the project.

more information about impaling in true shrikes (Laniidae):

Yosef and Pinshow – Impaling in true shrikes (Laniidae): A behavioral and ontogenetic perspective, 2005

Konrad Lorenz und Ursula von Saint Paul – Die Entwicklung des Spießens und Klemmens bei den drei Würgerarten Lanius collurio, L. senator und L. excubitor, 1968


Made possible by financial support from the Foundation Lucie Burgers for Comparative Behaviour Research, Arnhem