How We Abet Animals In Their Bad Decisions

by Tracy R. Walsh

Christopher Kemp explains what the boozy monkeys of St. Kitts (seen above) can teach us about how humans affect ecosystems:

According to biologist Bruce Robertson at Bard College in New York, the monkeys are caught in an “evolutionary trap.” Their enjoyment of alcohol exists for a very good reason, he says: they evolved to crave energy-rich foods. But now that piña coladas are easier to obtain than bananas, it has become a liability. “It’s an incorrect behavior that happened because we changed the environment too fast for evolution to catch up,” Robertson says.

Evolutionary traps – also called ecological traps – are everywhere. They have been found in almost every type of habitat, affecting mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. Bamboozled by rapid environmental change, these animals can no longer accurately assess the suitability of food resources, mates, habitats, or much of anything else. Bad choices look like good ones, and the animals are lured into an evolutionary dead-end. In this new world, a male giant jewel beetle lands on a beer bottle and tries to mate with it. … A Cuban tree frog swallows a fairy light in a backyard in Florida, responding as if the bulb were a tasty insect.