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Hurteau: Do Bucks Have Personalities?

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April 15, 2010

Hurteau: Do Bucks Have Personalities?

By Dave Hurteau

There’s a friendly battle that goes on between whitetail experts and writers who interview them. We, the writers, want concrete answers and hard, fast rules—because these make for better headlines: “5 Ways Big Bucks Are Different” or “3 Secret Surefire Strategies.” On the flip side, experts tend to start every answer with, “Well, it depends. . . .” And they’re not just covering their @$$-S. That is to say, they are covering their @$$-s, but that’s not all they’re doing. More and more, part of what seems to be behind this waffling is an increasingly popular notion that whitetail bucks are individuals with individual—brace yourself—personalities.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that hunters have historically cringed at anything smacking of anthropomorphism. And the word “personality,” when applied to an animal, seems to smack pretty hard. Yet I increasingly hear it applied to big bucks by people who know big bucks best. Then I read this form The New York Times:

Scientists studying animals from virtually every niche of the bestial kingdom have found evidence of distinctive personalities — bundled sets of behaviors, quirks, preferences and pet peeves that remain stable over time and across settings. They have found stylistic diversity in chimpanzees, monkeys, barnacle geese, farm minks, blue tits and great tits, bighorn sheep, dumpling squid, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra finches, spotted hyenas, even spiders and water striders, to name but a few. They have identified hotheads and tiptoers, schmoozers and loners, divas, dullards and fearless explorers, and they have learned that animals, like us, often cling to the same personality for the bulk of their lives….

Some critics complain that the term “animal personality”… smacks of that dread golem of biology, anthropomorphism — assigning human traits to nonhuman beings. Researchers in the field, however, defend their lingo and tactics. “Some of the behavior patterns we’re talking about are similar to what we call personality in human psychology literature,” said Max Wolf of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “So why not call it personality in other animals?”

Alison M. Bell of the University of Illinois at Urbana, who studies personality in stickleback fish, said: “We’re not being cute and anecdotal, we’re looking at consistent differences in behavior that we can test and measure.”

In other words, the experts who say bucks have individual personalities seem to have some science on their side.

So, what do you think? You all have lots of anecdotal evidence. Do whitetails have personalities? Are bucks innately bold or shy, does demure or sassy? Does assigning them those traits smack too much of anthropomorphism? h

Comments (28)

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from spartan88 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I think you are good until you start applying emotions and thought to animals. In my animal behavior classes words are used that shouldnt be used such as: think, tries to avoid, decide, etc.

It boils my blood. We are taught not to use human traits but people still do. The HSUS and PETA have pretty much won over the biologists that are not FW majors.

Heck I have had to read papers where humans are studied and the results are analyzed like we are animals, while doing this they compare us to animals and mention emotions and mate selection.

Do scientists give human emotions to animals? You betchya. Do they also give complex human interactions, emotions, and thoughts as behaviors that can be quantified and estimated? You betchya

I am a scientist but scientists need to get their act together.

Well after that rant I have to admit......... Many animals have traits that vary in the species. Does this mean they have the same thought process as humans? Heck no.

It is a fine line to walk and no one (hunter or scientists) seem to stay on the line.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from borediis21 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

we are animals were just smarter then others but I'm a farmer and an avid hunter from Ohio and i cannot stand PETA at all and i think animals have feelings but they have smarts in other ways but there not near as intelligent as us and therefore we can hunt and farm animals

that may not sound the greatest but i think you'll get my point

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from ENO wrote 4 years 2 days ago

“Some of the behavior patterns we’re talking about are similar to what we call personality in human psychology literature,” said Max Wolf of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “So why not call it personality in other animals?”

Well Max, maybe because that's stupid????? Trees are made of something similiar to what your psychology literature is made of...Sooo why not call them both trees????

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbird wrote 4 years 2 days ago

Yes, I think they have their own personalities. It's kinda like dogs, you get 2 different Labs, and they have 2 completely different personalities.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingKS wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I think it's a big problem any time one tries to extrapolate thought processes from behavior. It's simply an unknown.

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from elkslayer wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I would say that it is not so much "personality" as it is habits or preferences. I don't think that because an individual deer might prefer one food source to another or that he is more aggresive that it means he has a personality.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hunter Savage wrote 4 years 2 days ago

yes they do .I worked for the whitney family for ten years and they have fed deer for darn near forever at their main camp deer lands in the adirondacks . In those ten years i have seen just about every deer behavior you can think of fighting, breeding ,birthing , stomping the stuffing out of the care takers dog and on and on. the deer are fed there year round and in the winter you can see upwards of 150-200 deer day coming in to feed morning and evening, with some bucks scoring in the 150-160 bc class . they may all do basically the same thing but they all do it in their own different ways. that being said unless one ask's me not to eat him or her they are still on the menu .

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Walt Smith wrote 4 years 2 days ago

Hey Dave-- was the "Shoot Me Down" just a one and done???? Or did the new winner move to zimbabwae????

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from jerry1958 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

of course they have personalities but some go away with age

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from Walt Smith wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yep, all deer have different personalities, likes and dislikes, feelings, emotions and all the other mammal traits. I confess , I love ungulates-- lots of them!Thats why when I pull the trigger or hit the release I am sure I'm making the most humane shot possible, because I want that animal to die as quick as possible so I can hear those inside tenderloins hitting the grill (SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!) as soon as possible.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I'm with Walt.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark J wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes, I think all bucks have their own personality.

Spartan88 i think you have gone a little overboard on that rant. I understand your point and no one is going to argue that animals and humans have the same cognitive processes, that is simply false. However, it is equally false to say that animals do not experience some sort of emotion or have some sort of decision making processes. I think back to the video of the dog greeting her owner when he returned from Iraq that was up on this site a while back. I found it on youtube if any of you haven't seen it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysKAVyXi0J4&feature=related
If that isn't proof that animals have some sort of emotional capacities I don't know what is. Emotion may not be the perfect word for it as it has such a strong human connotation but how else would you define that type of behavior?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Saying that deer possess human traits and personalities is an insult to the entire deer population and only proves that science will continue to discover only what they want to discover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I haven't been around a whole ton of deer but I do know that dogs definitely have personality. My family has had several and a lot of my friends have dogs and not one of them has the same personality. For example Right now we have a Cockapoo and a Schnauzer. The Cockapoo is an arrogant, snobbish wimp(Must be the French in her), but the Schnauzer is a happy go lucky kind of guy who pretty much only focus on food and having fun. They also definitely have emotions. Earlier tonight when we discovered the Schnauzer had eaten my chemistry book and I scolded him for it he was terrified. I had to spend a good couple minutes talking to and playing with him, after I had let him sulk awhile, to convince him I wasn't mad any more. If dogs can have personality why can't deer? Not to say that animals have personality and emotion in the same way we do, but they do have them. However, The fact that deer have personality doesn't discourage me from hunting them in the least.

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from Dave Hurteau wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Hey Walt,
"Shoot Me Down" will be back. In fact, I think Scott is going to post one soon. So stay tuned.

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from jfgann66 wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes the deer have different personalities. But they do not enjoy the power of reason that we do and that is what seperates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to control our environment and organize toward a common goal and to invent new ways of reaching that goal makes us unique. Thats why we are not still running around as hunter gatherers in animal skins.

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from Bella wrote 4 years 1 day ago

A deer has a bigger brain than that Lhasa Apso dog yer auntie uses instead of a Roomba, of course he thinks, remembers and has "animalality" a sense of self. People who want to deny thought to animals are usually rationalizing something cruel they are planning for the critter. Amimals feel pain, communicate and experience emotions, just like us, because we are amimals too, part of the great chain of being. Some people would rather deny that they are also animals, but then the same person will rail about how thus and such an activity or behavior is "unnatural", even though that same person will claim that his species was "created" unnaturally and cite scripture to "prove" it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from copperhead wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I have watched wildlife for several years. I dont think I would classify it as personality. It looks more order to me.

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from walmsley wrote 4 years 1 day ago

call it whatever you choose- but all deer-Does included-and especialy adults bucks, have very different-"behavior charactoristics"-but you can't discuss this without using humnan words/terms-it's impossible- I get to know each of them well over the years here on my central IL. farm where I live-some are Bully's- they go out of their way to badger other bucks- some are timid- and will do anything to avoid a confrontation- some are "Day Walkers"- and some never move till darkness- Some are very vocal, and others never make a sound-"Personalities?" Maybe - but basicly-they're just all different- Like all living things.

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from thuroy wrote 4 years 1 day ago

When ever you give animals human characteristics that is called personification.

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from thuroy wrote 4 years 1 day ago

This may be childish, but their isn't one comment about the Great T!Ts having personality. I reread that part three times to make sure it said what I thought it said.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from VAHunter540 wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I would agree 100% that animals, and Bucks especially have personalities. Their brain function is not up to speed with ours, but highly developed instincts and senses play a role in developing "personalities". Anyone who has ever owned a dog or cat can attest to animals having personalities. Aside from what we "train" them to do animals are individuals who are ruled by their own instincts.

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from klvthatsme wrote 4 years 1 day ago

YES! All animals have personalities. In fact some have better personalities than humans.

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from Edstoresit wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes animals do have personalities. Not just conditioned ones as some other posters have pontificated about, but true personalities. I watch mallards drakes outside my parents windows that cintinually try and mate, with one drake assuming the female role and nesting and the other tending as a drake wold do. I have also watched a Buck run a 1/2 section of land just to keep others away from his food source. Conversely I have seen subordinate bucks purposely walk around said section just to avoid confrontation with the bully buck, as we called him.
That being said, there is a huge difference between anthropomorphism (NOT PERSONIFICATION) and cognitive reasoning. If a whitetail was capable of cognitive reasoning we wold never should one. The first miss would absolutely educate even yearlings and they would become nocturnal. That is why if you miss a young deer,over a food plot lets say, chances are they will be back to the food source in a relatively short amount of time, sometimes within seconds of the miss fire. This is the instictive drive to feed. Usually bucks and does alike become educated to hunters over a period of a year or two. It's not instant, as it would be for a well adjusted human. Even my toddler knows the dangers of stairs after falling down them once.
A whitetails' instictive drive is far greater than any semblance of cognitive reasoning they MIGHT possess. Personality, yes. But not quite critical thinkers are they?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I can tell you from working with livestock for many years that cattle and horses do most definitely have distinct personalities. No anthropomorphism intended as I use descriptive terms normally associated with human behavior as... well... we don't have any other good ways to convey such. In cattle I have found some that are shy and with drawing, some are out going and almost playful and some are down right mean to point of being almost evil! These traits seem to develop within a herd separate from any human handling issues.

When I was in college I would go to the deer research facility and watch the deer react with each other in a large enclosure. There were deer that were content to do what ever, there were deer that seemed to like to bully other deer (especially does) and there were deer that were shy and withdrawing. I see no reason this behavior would not carry over into the wilds.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

anyone who thinks animals don't have their own personaalities is a freaking neanderthal. by the way,where could i find a nice pair of those greater tits? as a confirmed watcher i would settle for the lesser variety with good conformation.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from spartan88 wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I think they have different traits. But as I was trying to get to in my "rant" is that They do not think things out like humans do. Regardless what people say we are very different from animals even chimps.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from fisherman wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I completely agree with Mark J. Of course animals can make decisions! Every animal does, from the trophy buck to the trophy bucketmouth. Animals are not just pulled through life by "fate." And obviously the bigger-brained animals like elephants, horses and dogs can feel emotions, not like our own exactly but emotions nonetheless. As for pumpkinseed sunfish having personalities.... Who knows but the Lord who made 'em.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

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from spartan88 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I think you are good until you start applying emotions and thought to animals. In my animal behavior classes words are used that shouldnt be used such as: think, tries to avoid, decide, etc.

It boils my blood. We are taught not to use human traits but people still do. The HSUS and PETA have pretty much won over the biologists that are not FW majors.

Heck I have had to read papers where humans are studied and the results are analyzed like we are animals, while doing this they compare us to animals and mention emotions and mate selection.

Do scientists give human emotions to animals? You betchya. Do they also give complex human interactions, emotions, and thoughts as behaviors that can be quantified and estimated? You betchya

I am a scientist but scientists need to get their act together.

Well after that rant I have to admit......... Many animals have traits that vary in the species. Does this mean they have the same thought process as humans? Heck no.

It is a fine line to walk and no one (hunter or scientists) seem to stay on the line.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from borediis21 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

we are animals were just smarter then others but I'm a farmer and an avid hunter from Ohio and i cannot stand PETA at all and i think animals have feelings but they have smarts in other ways but there not near as intelligent as us and therefore we can hunt and farm animals

that may not sound the greatest but i think you'll get my point

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Walt Smith wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yep, all deer have different personalities, likes and dislikes, feelings, emotions and all the other mammal traits. I confess , I love ungulates-- lots of them!Thats why when I pull the trigger or hit the release I am sure I'm making the most humane shot possible, because I want that animal to die as quick as possible so I can hear those inside tenderloins hitting the grill (SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!) as soon as possible.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark J wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes, I think all bucks have their own personality.

Spartan88 i think you have gone a little overboard on that rant. I understand your point and no one is going to argue that animals and humans have the same cognitive processes, that is simply false. However, it is equally false to say that animals do not experience some sort of emotion or have some sort of decision making processes. I think back to the video of the dog greeting her owner when he returned from Iraq that was up on this site a while back. I found it on youtube if any of you haven't seen it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysKAVyXi0J4&feature=related
If that isn't proof that animals have some sort of emotional capacities I don't know what is. Emotion may not be the perfect word for it as it has such a strong human connotation but how else would you define that type of behavior?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from ENO wrote 4 years 2 days ago

“Some of the behavior patterns we’re talking about are similar to what we call personality in human psychology literature,” said Max Wolf of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “So why not call it personality in other animals?”

Well Max, maybe because that's stupid????? Trees are made of something similiar to what your psychology literature is made of...Sooo why not call them both trees????

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbird wrote 4 years 2 days ago

Yes, I think they have their own personalities. It's kinda like dogs, you get 2 different Labs, and they have 2 completely different personalities.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hunter Savage wrote 4 years 2 days ago

yes they do .I worked for the whitney family for ten years and they have fed deer for darn near forever at their main camp deer lands in the adirondacks . In those ten years i have seen just about every deer behavior you can think of fighting, breeding ,birthing , stomping the stuffing out of the care takers dog and on and on. the deer are fed there year round and in the winter you can see upwards of 150-200 deer day coming in to feed morning and evening, with some bucks scoring in the 150-160 bc class . they may all do basically the same thing but they all do it in their own different ways. that being said unless one ask's me not to eat him or her they are still on the menu .

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I'm with Walt.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Saying that deer possess human traits and personalities is an insult to the entire deer population and only proves that science will continue to discover only what they want to discover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bella wrote 4 years 1 day ago

A deer has a bigger brain than that Lhasa Apso dog yer auntie uses instead of a Roomba, of course he thinks, remembers and has "animalality" a sense of self. People who want to deny thought to animals are usually rationalizing something cruel they are planning for the critter. Amimals feel pain, communicate and experience emotions, just like us, because we are amimals too, part of the great chain of being. Some people would rather deny that they are also animals, but then the same person will rail about how thus and such an activity or behavior is "unnatural", even though that same person will claim that his species was "created" unnaturally and cite scripture to "prove" it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I can tell you from working with livestock for many years that cattle and horses do most definitely have distinct personalities. No anthropomorphism intended as I use descriptive terms normally associated with human behavior as... well... we don't have any other good ways to convey such. In cattle I have found some that are shy and with drawing, some are out going and almost playful and some are down right mean to point of being almost evil! These traits seem to develop within a herd separate from any human handling issues.

When I was in college I would go to the deer research facility and watch the deer react with each other in a large enclosure. There were deer that were content to do what ever, there were deer that seemed to like to bully other deer (especially does) and there were deer that were shy and withdrawing. I see no reason this behavior would not carry over into the wilds.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from spartan88 wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I think they have different traits. But as I was trying to get to in my "rant" is that They do not think things out like humans do. Regardless what people say we are very different from animals even chimps.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from fisherman wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

I completely agree with Mark J. Of course animals can make decisions! Every animal does, from the trophy buck to the trophy bucketmouth. Animals are not just pulled through life by "fate." And obviously the bigger-brained animals like elephants, horses and dogs can feel emotions, not like our own exactly but emotions nonetheless. As for pumpkinseed sunfish having personalities.... Who knows but the Lord who made 'em.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingKS wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I think it's a big problem any time one tries to extrapolate thought processes from behavior. It's simply an unknown.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 4 years 2 days ago

I would say that it is not so much "personality" as it is habits or preferences. I don't think that because an individual deer might prefer one food source to another or that he is more aggresive that it means he has a personality.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Walt Smith wrote 4 years 2 days ago

Hey Dave-- was the "Shoot Me Down" just a one and done???? Or did the new winner move to zimbabwae????

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jerry1958 wrote 4 years 2 days ago

of course they have personalities but some go away with age

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I haven't been around a whole ton of deer but I do know that dogs definitely have personality. My family has had several and a lot of my friends have dogs and not one of them has the same personality. For example Right now we have a Cockapoo and a Schnauzer. The Cockapoo is an arrogant, snobbish wimp(Must be the French in her), but the Schnauzer is a happy go lucky kind of guy who pretty much only focus on food and having fun. They also definitely have emotions. Earlier tonight when we discovered the Schnauzer had eaten my chemistry book and I scolded him for it he was terrified. I had to spend a good couple minutes talking to and playing with him, after I had let him sulk awhile, to convince him I wasn't mad any more. If dogs can have personality why can't deer? Not to say that animals have personality and emotion in the same way we do, but they do have them. However, The fact that deer have personality doesn't discourage me from hunting them in the least.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Hurteau wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Hey Walt,
"Shoot Me Down" will be back. In fact, I think Scott is going to post one soon. So stay tuned.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jfgann66 wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes the deer have different personalities. But they do not enjoy the power of reason that we do and that is what seperates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to control our environment and organize toward a common goal and to invent new ways of reaching that goal makes us unique. Thats why we are not still running around as hunter gatherers in animal skins.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from copperhead wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I have watched wildlife for several years. I dont think I would classify it as personality. It looks more order to me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from walmsley wrote 4 years 1 day ago

call it whatever you choose- but all deer-Does included-and especialy adults bucks, have very different-"behavior charactoristics"-but you can't discuss this without using humnan words/terms-it's impossible- I get to know each of them well over the years here on my central IL. farm where I live-some are Bully's- they go out of their way to badger other bucks- some are timid- and will do anything to avoid a confrontation- some are "Day Walkers"- and some never move till darkness- Some are very vocal, and others never make a sound-"Personalities?" Maybe - but basicly-they're just all different- Like all living things.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from thuroy wrote 4 years 1 day ago

When ever you give animals human characteristics that is called personification.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from thuroy wrote 4 years 1 day ago

This may be childish, but their isn't one comment about the Great T!Ts having personality. I reread that part three times to make sure it said what I thought it said.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from VAHunter540 wrote 4 years 1 day ago

I would agree 100% that animals, and Bucks especially have personalities. Their brain function is not up to speed with ours, but highly developed instincts and senses play a role in developing "personalities". Anyone who has ever owned a dog or cat can attest to animals having personalities. Aside from what we "train" them to do animals are individuals who are ruled by their own instincts.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from klvthatsme wrote 4 years 1 day ago

YES! All animals have personalities. In fact some have better personalities than humans.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Edstoresit wrote 4 years 1 day ago

Yes animals do have personalities. Not just conditioned ones as some other posters have pontificated about, but true personalities. I watch mallards drakes outside my parents windows that cintinually try and mate, with one drake assuming the female role and nesting and the other tending as a drake wold do. I have also watched a Buck run a 1/2 section of land just to keep others away from his food source. Conversely I have seen subordinate bucks purposely walk around said section just to avoid confrontation with the bully buck, as we called him.
That being said, there is a huge difference between anthropomorphism (NOT PERSONIFICATION) and cognitive reasoning. If a whitetail was capable of cognitive reasoning we wold never should one. The first miss would absolutely educate even yearlings and they would become nocturnal. That is why if you miss a young deer,over a food plot lets say, chances are they will be back to the food source in a relatively short amount of time, sometimes within seconds of the miss fire. This is the instictive drive to feed. Usually bucks and does alike become educated to hunters over a period of a year or two. It's not instant, as it would be for a well adjusted human. Even my toddler knows the dangers of stairs after falling down them once.
A whitetails' instictive drive is far greater than any semblance of cognitive reasoning they MIGHT possess. Personality, yes. But not quite critical thinkers are they?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

anyone who thinks animals don't have their own personaalities is a freaking neanderthal. by the way,where could i find a nice pair of those greater tits? as a confirmed watcher i would settle for the lesser variety with good conformation.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

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