Do animals demonstrate any sort of accuracy-motivated play? (please provide examples!)

Consider most human sports and related hobbies. Most share the common goal of hitting a target or being accurate, and in the case of organized sports, points are typically awarded for being accurate. Archery, firearm past times, football, soccer, basketball, hockey, baseball, tennis, billiards, bowling, darts, beer pong, horseshoes, and countless other examples all are based on competitive accuracy.

Humans seem to be obsessed with accuracy in our competitive past-times. Examination of more ancient sport interests demonstrate less preoccupation with accuracy (though of course there is variation between cultures -- see here or here, ), and perhaps just more with demonstrations of strength and dominance. However, competitive accuracy was alive and well in ancient times: boxing, sword fighting, lacrosse, hoop rolling, golf (and Chinese equivalent Chuiwan), and others already listed are just a few examples of accuracy games with more ancient origins. It seems, then, that the human species has had a fascination with accuracy for a long time.

However, do animals have the same (or really any) preoccupation with accuracy? I've seen countless examples of animals 'playing' or competing (e.g., pets & captive animals playing with toys & enrichment objects, young males of various taxa sparring or wrestling, whales playing with their food, monkeys sheep herding on dogs, etc.), but is there any evidence or example of wild animals playing 'games' based on accuracy?

  • $\begingroup$ No need to comment on reasons why animals play. I understand that the bulk of animal 'play' is preparing them to be successful adults & that accuracy would typically not be immediately relevant for most animals. (Though bears trying to catch salmon, chameleons trying to catch insects, & osprey diving for fish are just a few examples where accuracy is necessary). In these cases, 'practice' would not really be competitive or playful tests of accuracy, but rather just failed attempts to gather food. I'm curious if more playful examples of tests-of-accuracy exist in the animal kingdom? $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Jan 25 '16 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ I guess it is unlikely that playful tests of accuracy really developed before the evolution of hands and feet that are more amenable to throwing objects. Still, I could imagine instances where accuracy games involving spitting, rolling, fishing, insect-catching, etc. could exist $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Jan 25 '16 at 2:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice questions, but I voted to close. The questions are each quite broad individually, and you stack three distantly related queations on top of each other. Please ask specific questions, one at a time. In its current form it's too broad to even start a partial answer attempt. Also, consider other SE sites. E.g., the history of human play is not on topic here. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jan 25 '16 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ I guess so yes, just develop them in independent questions with the appropriate background info targeted to each question. Simply copy-pasting the same text twice wouldn't be too constructive. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jan 25 '16 at 21:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Voted to reopen - though I'd suggest the question would benefit from reducing the amount of text... right now it's fairly substantial reading, that can put people off reading it properly... $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jan 29 '16 at 20:18

One example that comes to mind is archer fish. There is evidence that they improve with practice, but they practice on targets that are food items, so I'm not sure whether that counts as practice with respect to your question. Interestingly, there's also some evidence that they can improve their accuracy simply by watching other archer fish succeed.


Does this count?


The playful creatures create the bubbles with their blowholes, then chase and swim through them.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.