Are you right handed or left handed? Did you know that animals can be right or left handed too? Even if they don’t have hands, a lot of animals do “behavioral lateralization” which means that they use one side of their body more than the other side. Fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds can all have lateralization.
There are many reasons that using one side of the body more than the other could be useful for animals. We know that different sides of the brain control different things, which might free up brain space so they don’t have to keep the same thing in their brain twice. Behaviors that animals do with one side of their bodies can also help with survival, and finding food. Scientists usually study this by keeping track of behavior an animal does, and which side of the body they used.
In this science experiment, scientists decided to look at sea birds called gannets because they search for food in a way that uses one side of their body more. When gannets fly over the ocean they look for fish to eat and then dive down into the water to catch the fish. Gannets have to be careful when they dive not to lose the fish and also not to bump into any other gannets that are also diving. One way that gannets are able to do all of these things at once is doing a special roll in the air while they dive. This roll is either to the right or the left, kind of like how you are either right handed or left handed.
For the science experiment scientists caught 71 birds and put a GPS on them. Then they let the birds do their special roll while they dive and look for food, and kept track of whether the roll was to the left or the right with the GPS. Based on the rolls, the scientists found that some birds are left sided and some birds are right sided. About half of the gannets were right sided, and half were left sided. This is a cool result because this science experiment was the first one done testing if seabirds looking for food can be left or right sided.
After their experiment, the scientists predicted that birds being left or right sided can help them with navigation and food gathering. From different science experiments, they think that different sided birds are better at different skills. They think that right sided birds are better at getting food, and left sided birds are better at getting away from enemies. The scientists talked about how people should do more experiments with seabirds and which side they use more because this information can help the field of animal science grow.
Bennison, A., Clark, B. L., Votier, S. C., Quinn, J. L., Darby, J., & Jessopp, M. (2023). Handedness and individual roll-angle specialism when plunge diving in the northern gannet. Biology Letters, 19(9), 20230287. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2023.0287