Whales and Monkeys Pass Behavioral Traits and Culture Down like Humans

  • Michael Briggs , Design & Trend Staff Writer
  • Apr, 25, 2013, 04:26 PM

Good eating habits are a cross-species trait passed on to individuals by social groups, according to two new studies observing eating preferences and feeding techniques of humpback whales and vervet monkeys.

The idea of a culture between whales, a cetacean, has been controversial—until now. The study found strong evidence that humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine share feeding behavior through their social networks, specifically with lobtail feeding, a feeding technique previously demonstrated by just whale in 1980. Since then, the trait has been passed down through generations and is demonstrated by 278 of the 700 observed individuals that frequent the Stellwagen Bank area. 

"I've been arguing for over a decade now that cultural transmission is important in cetacean societies," said study co-author Luke Rendell, a marine biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. 

In the other study, four vervet monkeys were trained to pick their food from different colors of dyed corn. In some buckets, scientists placed blue corn mixed with a bitter-tasting additive, prompting the monkeys in that group to snack on the pink kernels. In another test group, the bitter flavoring was swapped, so monkeys only ate the blue kernels. The next step was accessing whether the vervet babies would follow their mother's choices once they were able to consume whole foods.

As it turned out, 26 of the 27 babies followed suit without trying the other possible food option.


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