A groundbreaking study of banded mongooses in Uganda has shown even small-brained animals pass on traditions, giving a valuable insight into how complex human culture could have evolved.
Scientists from the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences studied five groups of banded mongooses, one of them made famous in the BBC TV series Banded Brothers: The Mongoose Mob. Their pioneering research observed the animals passing on traditions (namely foraging preferences) from one generation to the next, a practice previously thought to be reserved only to humans and the most intellectually advanced animals, such as primates and dolphins.
Dr Corsin Mller, lead author of the study, said the findings showed for the first time that less-advanced animals pass on traditions in the wild, which has important implications for understanding how culture can develop. He said: "We've shown that the basic mechanism for traditions is already found in animals of very average intellect, like mongooses. If they pass on traditions, there's no reason to suspect most other animals wouldn't have traditions too. This is a starting point at which traditions could evolve to become more complex and gives us an insight into how our cultures may have begun. It's a point from which our behaviour could have evolved."
Mongooses are better known for their unique social system which means biological parents contribute little to the raising of their young. Instead pups pick out an adult, such as an older sibling, cousin, or uncle, to be their "escort" through infancy. The pair will then spend most of their time together, with the escort caring for the young pup until it can be independent.
This led Dr Mller to wonder whether the escort was passing on traditions to their pup. Together with Dr Michael Cant, also of the University of Exeter, he devised research which would test the tradition theory by taking advantage of another mongoose trait, namely their vari
|Contact: Daniel Williams|
University of Exeter