Worms or chocolates?

Worms or chocolates?

Image: Kira auf der Heide/Unsplash

What to give blob granny? A registration in the Fitnessstudio? Potholders? Book voucher? Or what? And, while we are at it: Why actually? – A little natural history of gift giving

Yes, why do we give gifts at all? Gift giving has a good reputation; it apparently shows generosity, generosity and altruism, it shows man from his chocolate Santa Claus side. But does it deserve this reputation? "There’s no such thing as a free lunch", is the American business wisdom. Many gifts are based on calculation.

If someone hands you a red rose in the Fubganger zone, they will be met with a "Thank you" not be satisfied. Gifts can be used in many ways to create obligations and dependencies. So useful are they for that, that nature has come up with the idea long before mankind. Animals, like us, know gifts of very different moral shades.

Completely free of coarseness and altruism is the Danaergeschenk. Various parasites offer themselves as Trojan horses, so to speak. The caterpillar of the ant blue butterfly is still comparatively harmless: it masquerades as an ant larva by smell and is therefore carried fursorily into the nest by ants and fed like a queen for almost two years without causing any particular harm to the colony.

The tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus is already doing it badly. It manipulates infested copepods into wriggling teasingly in front of sticklebacks until they eat the nutritious gift – making themselves the worm’s next host.

After the tapeworm has grown enormously in the fish, it now makes it swim on the surface of the water and thus makes it a gift to herons. They do not suffer any harm, but only excrete worm eggs, so that they can be eaten again by owl crabs.

"Timeo parasitos et dona ferentes", one could note. At Christmas, of course, this knowledge is of little help, unless you’re mooching off your grandmother.

Tit for tat, quite literally

The most frequent form of gift-giving, both in the animal and human kingdoms, is in the moral gray area: the gift that expects something in return. You find it with insects, with spiders and with birds. Men charm their beloved by presenting her with a gift. Most of the time it is something edible: bluebirds overabundant worms, spiders hubsch wrapped insects, dance flies spun in prey. Manner: chocolates.

Of course, this does not serve to show non-binding affection, just as the gifts of a wealthy sugar daddy do not have this purpose. It is clearly about a "do ut of the"The giveaways are handed over in the hope of physical reward. Tits for that instead of tit for tat. The apparent gift is in fact a nicely packaged purchase.

A Japanese research group puts it very gently: "Men, like the male of many animal species, use gifts to build satisfactory relationships with a desired woman." Should one "satisfactory relationships" in this context now translate as "satisfactory" or rather "satisfying" Relationships?

In any case, the research is groundbreaking: For the gift effect, the giver and the gift interact. Women are happy when an attractive man gives them flowers, but not when a bored man does. Ei pardauz, who had thought that?

If the gift is really a payment, then fraud is a temptation. Because moral expectations and genuine altruism do not play a role then, especially not if being caught has no consequences. As in a barter market, it is then only a matter of getting as much as possible for as little as possible. That’s why some spider-men rely on deceptive packages.

There is nothing in the silk paper envelope they give to the lady. Before the beggar realizes it, she is already fertilized. The spider man has achieved his only goal. Research shows that providing calories to the mother does not increase its chances of survival (female spiders like to eat their mates) or those of its offspring.

Whether the limbs think about what they are doing, whether they take chances and risks, and whether the females are happy about the morning gift, all this is unknown. It is a ritualized behavior with little variance, and is commonly amed to be performed instinctively. But then, why are some men coarse and others not??


Now, it is not customary to give a bride’s gift to her grandmother. But social reciprocations can be of very different nature. Small gifts, as is well known, preserve friendship. This is already illustrated by a beautiful story from history: When the emperor Frederick II. When the pope forced him to go on a crusade, he had no desire to do so. He had grown up in Sicily in the Arab culture, spoke Arabic fondly and had a rather distant relationship to the Christian faith.

So, after reaching Jerusalem with his army, he did something unusual: he sent the Sultan al-Kamil a horse-drawn caravan, loaded with gifts of hospitality. The Sultan sent back a comparable caravan. Then they began to negotiate. As Wikipedia briefly summarizes: "This crusade became the only one, which was peaceful and successful."

Bonobos do it in principle similarly. The smaller relatives of the chimpanzees are generally more socially inclined than the chimpanzees. While chimpanzees, as one researcher put it, were more likely to be left for dead than to give anything away voluntarily, bonobos share their food generously with strangers as well, even preferring to eat with strangers. However also the Bonobos motivates thereby no holymabige selflessness.

Your reward is to be able to get to know the stranger in this way. When the researchers arranged the experiment so that one bonobo could give another access to bananas without being able to interact with him, the apes were not interested.

So gifts can serve to initiate or maintain a relationship. Strictly speaking, they are not altruistic, because they pay off for the giver by expanding social opportunities. He acquires loyalties and consolidates coalitions that could be useful to him later on. The grandma who receives a gift may not only send cookies, but also be a helpful ally at the next family quarrel.

Gifts of gratitude

As long as the gift precedes the return, on the one hand it implies trust, but on the other hand it always has the smell of purchase. This changes only if the order is reversed. The gift of gratitude no longer brings anything, at least in material terms. From a strictly economic point of view, it is a waste of money. This is really about relationship building, or even the special feeling of gratitude.

Who has free-running cats, knows the certainly well-intentioned, although usually disgusting souvenirs. In the worst case they are still fresh, because alive, and disappear behind the closet. Whether the cat really wants to thank for board and lodging is controversial. She may also be doing to her elusive human roommates what she usually does to clumsy kittens: teaching them to hunt by bringing in easy prey to prey on. In this case, too, it was a gift without return.

It is also not clear why dolphins in Tangalooma on Moreton Island in eastern Australia show their appreciation. They have been eaten there every night for almost three years. And sometimes they bring back a thank-you gift – freshly caught fish or octopods, for example, which they give to the employees.

Something similar is often reported about corvids. If you feed them regularly, they sometimes show their gratitude by small gifts. In 2015, the story of Gabi Mann, then eight years old in Seattle, who had been feeding the crows in her backyard every day since 2011, became known. Soon the birds began to leave little things in the garden: screws, lost earrings, broken light bulbs, buttons, shells – all kinds of glittering things.

As the blogger Kate St. John reported some years later, some commentators told about their own similar experiences. The ornithologist John Marzluff has collected such stories and made them the core of his book "Gifts from the Crow" . He sees in it an example of how similar birds are to us humans.

Provided, of course, that we show gratitude.

I am happy if you are happy

And with that we come to the most gentle form of giving: the gift of affection. A gift that has no other purpose than to make the other happy.

And that is not so simple. It presupposes that one knows what exactly the other person will be happy about. Not every grandma is thrilled about a ticket to the Helene Fischer concert. It can be very difficult and tedious to think of the right gift to give them. If you don’t want to just give what has always worked, you need more than empathy for the feelings of the recipient: He needs real Theory of Mind, i.e. the ability to think about the thoughts and wishes of another person. Even many people find it difficult.

Eichelhaher (also they Rabenvogel) can the. Their husbands still occasionally give gifts to their lady, even if they have been a couple for a long time. Just as the married man is well advised to bring a bunch of flowers from time to time. However, the local woman has nothing to do with blood wax; she is more pragmatic and likes it nutritious.

But we know what it’s like: no matter how expensive a dish is, at some point you’re going to get tired of it. The same goes for Hahern, and the sensitive husband pays attention: When he sees that his better half has gorged himself on wax moth larvae, he offers her mealworms, and vice versa. And that is completely independent of what he himself feels like.

Whether grandma is happy about wax moth larvae? Well, we’ll think about that in peace and quiet now. The aim of the Bescherung is in any case that she is pleased. That at least we had now clarified.