Scorpions vs. Meerkats

Scorpion-Eating Lessons Pay Off for Meerkat Pups

Earlier in 2006, biologists discovered that ants instruct one another in how to locate food. Now teaching behavior has been discovered in a second nonhuman species. Meerkats, those small South African members of the mongoose family, teach their pups how to eat dangerous animals.
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5177594.stm)

Meerkats

“Helpers will gradually introduce pups to live prey,” said zoologist Alex Thornton of the University of Cambridge, “so when pups are very little they get brought dead prey, like scorpions, lizards and spiders; as they start to get older, helpers will bring them prey that’s been disabled, so if it’s a scorpion the helper might bite the sting off before giving it to the pup.” As the pups approach independence, they’re given live prey.

Thornton tested the efficacy of this behavior and found that young meerkats that had “practiced” wrangling live scorpions were more successful in later tests than those that had practiced on dead scorpions or on boiled eggs, which were used as a control.

Thornton, whose report appears in the journal Science , suggests that teaching is “probably more common than we realized” in the animal world. It does carry a cost, since time spent teaching is not spent gathering food, but it appears that the investment may be worthwhile in situations where the young need to acquire complex skills that they can’t learn simply by watching adults.

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