What Science Says About Animals That Love Human Cuddles

When we pet an iguana, we are taking advantage of a communication channel that already exists between iguanas. Evolution can work across species too.

Pucker up
Nic Ulmi

GENEVA — If we believe what we see in this video of a lemur and this one of an owl, it would appear that animals are addicted to cuddles. Even a reptile, a hen and a fish look like they enjoy some human affection.

From a bear that's as cuddly as a stuffed animal to a needy koala, and even this toucan, birds and animals alike appear to love human touch in these online viral videos. They make clear they want more cuddles from the human hand that strokes them. They rub themselves and snuggle blissfully with their eyes closed.

But what does science say about such cuddling animals? What do these creatures seek? Pleasure? Food? Social bonds?

Roland Maurer, a behavioral biologist at the University of Geneva, says he has seen a "huge iguana at the Chaux-de-Fonds zoo clearly seeking cuddles' or, at least, head massages. The researcher notes that his bearded dragon — a type of Australian lizard with a thorny neck not known to be social — "closes its eyes and stands still when someone strokes its head."

"I guess they find some form of pleasure. There must be mechanisms that make these contacts pleasant to them, otherwise they would reject them," says Maurer. "For social mammals, it's very simple. Physical contact leads to the production of certain hormones, especially oxytocin, that nurture attachment and that are linked to a form of well-being."

Since physical contact triggers this chemistry, it also reinforces the need in animals to pursue this contact. This chemical-behavioral glue brings together members of social species. "Without this mechanism that makes contact pleasant, they would tend to stay apart from each other," says Maurer.

But what's the use of this pleasure? Why has evolution retained this behavior?

"Precisely because it favors social life by reducing aggression between members of the same group. Attacking each other isn't beneficial," he says.

Affection then regulates the pull of competition and cooperation. It acts as a device that allows the coexistence of opposite impulses. As this principle of pleasure is already established in some species, it could could activate upon physical contact. "When we pet an iguana, we are actually taking advantage of a communication channel that already exists between iguanas," says Maurer.

Geneticist André Langaney reviewed the video of the lemur and offers an explanation. "The Maki lemur has obviously some kind of rash and it seems to be begging for cuddles when it's actually scratching itself. Having said that, it may also be using a double strategy: after it was rewarded with the first scratches, it may want more because it actually likes the contact itself."

These behaviors, which are first linked to survival, become actions that pursue pleasure. "The perception of pleasure is evolution's mechanism to make us do things. If social life didn't have any pleasure, there would simply be no social life at all. And that would be a handicap for survival in many situations," says Maurer.

But we, as humans, may be reading too much into animal behavior. "There is animal behavior that for us reflects a human cultural behavior. For instance, a kiss on the lips. It's a cultural gesture because it's completely unknown in many traditional societies. Now of course, people kiss on the lips in every society all around the world with the spread of television and internet. But before that, this act seemed puzzling and incongruous in many cultures," Langaney says.

The behavior of animals with complex cognitive skills vary according to circumstances. Their behavior is passed on through learning rather than through genetic code.

"When the environmental conditions change, it can lead to modifications in the social structures and behaviors," says Langaney.

Unfortunately, says the geneticist, the best existing examples are orangutans, who are now all living in small territories because their forests were cut down. "The fact that they are concentrated in a smaller area than what they were used to leads these primates, who were solitary until then, to form social groups," Laganey explains. "In these circumstances, orangutans begin to touch each other, make gestures of solidarity, develop interactions like those we usually observe with anthropomorphic great apes who belong to social species like chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas."

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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