Adam Welz's Weblog

yawning across the billennia in Soldotna, Alaska

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding, nature & environment by adamwelz on June 2, 2008

Hi All

slowly ploughing backwards thru photos from my trip.

Soldotna, Alaska, I think 9 May 08. Round the back of the hotel where I was staying is the Kenai River, a fishing mecca with so many fishing lodges/spots/hangouts along its length its a miracle anything with gills lives in there anymore.

Taking an evening break, I walk along the banks to look for birds. I find a nearby Mew Gull, a commonish small gull and decide to take a record shot of it. As I’m snapping away, it calls up to its mate…

…which comes down to say hi…

…and then gets bored and goes off to fiddle about with its bill in the dirty unmelted snow our protagonists are standing on (I have no idea why).

A bit later both birds fly off a few metres, one landing on an even dirtier bit of snow…

…where it settles down…

…and then (here’s the interesting bit), yawns.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, this particular yawn reminded me that I’ve seen lizards and even fish yawning, and just about every mammal you could care to think of. Clearly the common ancestor of us and many other vertebrates around today was a yawner. (Birds branched off the vertebrate evolutionary tree in the Jurassic – like somewhere between 200 and 145 million years ago.)

What’s the point of yawning? Do amoebas yawn? Why is this funny habit so many hundreds of millions of years old? I mean, crap, humans and birds evolved out of lizards or coelocanths or whatever into hectic endothermic creatures with wings, big brains, lord knows what else, but we haven’t managed to evolve out of YAWNING?

Do you think yawning could be evidence of Intelligent Design?

I’m going to stop now, because if I carry on I’ll find myself with a stellar academic career on my hands, and that may be disastrous. But I look forward to your ideas!



3 Responses

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  1. Jim Dahl said, on June 2, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Yawns are a way to relieve tension, keep awake, stretch mouth muscles, convey bordom, and let our mate know you are comfortable. Just think, how many things can be “said”, unsaid.
    Glad we have made contact again.

  2. […] photograhic work, take a look at his blog. And maybe give him your insights on his question about the adaptive significance of yawning. Read the comments on this […]

  3. Pete Nelson said, on June 4, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    I did some postdoc work on chimp facial expressions a while back. One of the experiments I wanted to do was to see if chimps could distinguish between images (no sound) of a ‘scream face’ and a yawn. (Prior research has shown that chimps can distinguish between images of various facial expressions w known significance.) The two look indistinguishable to me, though of course the yawn lacks the acoustic signal that accompanies the scream! We had plenty of ‘scream face’ images but had a terrible time getting good, frontal photos of yawns for our match-to-sample experiments. I’m not sure this would set anyone on the path to an illustrious academic career (it’s certainly an example of what the Aussie’s would call ‘blue sky research’), but I’d love to see someone do the experiment. It’d also be interesting to quantify the temporal distribution of yawns in a social setting–once someone yawns, others start doing the same. Or look at the social hierarchy of yawners. I don’t know what the adaptive significance (if any) of yawning is, though it’s likely indicative of an individual’s motivational state. Social yawning may be adaptive in that it gets all members of a social group on a similar motivational state (like dawn choruses in birds, monkeys and dolphins?). Plenty to keep you busy there!

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