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Social Play in Arabian Babblers

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Social play behavior was studied in eleven groups of tame, color-ringed Arabian babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) at the Shezaf nature reserve near Hazeva in the Rift Valley in Israel. 2500 instances of play were recorded in 950 hours of observations carried out from July 1981 to June 1983. Four hours of play interactions were recorded on video-tape and were analyzed using slow-motion techniques.

Babblers' play fits all the criteria for 'social play' described by Loizos (1967) and by Muller-Schwarze (1978). The most common forms of play observed were wrestling, displacement (king-of-the-hill), chases, and tug-of-war. Several play-signals were identified: crouching, rolling over, elevation of sticks, play bow, establishing eye contact and freezing briefly in the middle of play. No vocal play-signals were observed.

The ontogeny of play is briefly described. Play activity diminishes with age. Dominants play less than subordinates. Babblers tend to play with individuals close to them in rank. Breeding females rarely play. There was no effect of age, dominance or gender on the type of play. When playing, dominants use play-signals more often than subordinates do. Social tension in a group inhibited play activity. Babblers play more in summer than in winter. Bouts of play tend to alternate with bouts of allopreening. Food supplementation increased both activities. Play is more demanding than allopreening, both physically and socially. It is suggested that in babblers testing the social bond is a major component in both social play and allopreening.

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