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Hyenas and Triadic Closure

A couple years ago, the┬áNational Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) ran a study that showed hyenas tend to become friends of their friends. Apparently, hyenas are pretty socially sophisticated animals and within their clans, they’re able to identity and differentiate different hyenas based on how much they like them (this is a roundabout way of saying they know who their friends are). They don’t become friends with random hyenas in the clan, but instead they tend to befriend friends of their friends (say that three times fast!). The lead author of the study, Amiyaal Ilany, noted that, “Cohesive clusters can facilitate efficient cooperation and hence maximize fitness, and so our study shows that hyenas exploit this advantage.” This finding seems to make sense. Hyenas are hunting animals, so teamwork and coordination during a hunt is paramount. It only makes sense then to hunt with friends with whom the hyenas already have high synergy, and friends of those friends are probably also easy to work with.

This cohesive clustering is exactly triadic closure. In class, we have been discussing┬áthe Strong Triadic Closure Property (STCP), which states that if a node A has strong ties to two nodes, B and C, it’s very likely that there exists at least a weak tie between nodes B and C. Now we can replaces “nodes” with “hyenas” and we have an actual, real-word application of this phenomenon. The tendency for the hyenas to befriends friends of friends is reinforced by the fact that they need to hunt, and to hunt successfully, they must work together with other hyenas that they understand and trust.

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