They may not share our enthusiasm for tinsel, but other creatures take pride in decorating their homes too
Interior design isn’t a uniquely human concept. Many species have the urge to beautify their surroundings, from brightly coloured bowerbird to microscopic Amazonian spiders. These animals don’t just redecorate because it looks nice; their tasteful strategies have evolved to help them survive.
There are 20 species of bowerbird, named for their habit of constructing a bower in which to live, and each of these has a complex mating ritual. The male bird builds a shady house from grass and sticks then collects colourful objects and places them carefully around the outside. These knick knacks are rearranged daily to make the bower look bigger and more impressive to an onlooker – studies have found that the great bowerbird’s nest acts as an optical illusion from the perspective of a female at the entrance. The satin bowerbird even paints the walls of its home with a vegetable and saliva paste.
Octopuses are known to sprinkle their sleeping quarters with shiny objects, leaving empty shells from molluscs and coconuts outside their burrows. Some researchers believe these heaps impress prospective partners by showing off an animal’s hunting ability. Others think the shells could be there to show the burrow is occupied and ward off rivals.
Some spider species in South America and the Philippines create elaborate patterns on their webs in the shape of a spider. The decoy is made of pieces of debris and appears several times larger and more menacing than the actual occupant. It’s thought that while predators are contemplating this apparent target, the real arachnid is free to flee.
Off the coast of Japan, small male puffer fish work day and night to create beautiful nests. Using their fins, they sculpt ornate circular patterns of ridges and troughs decorated with cracked pieces of shell. In the dim ocean females are attracted to the largest and most complex circle, making their way to the centre to mate with the winning artist and lay eggs.
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