Friday, July 14, 2006

Schooled Dinners: How Meerkats Teach Their Young What To Eat

We aren't the only species who spend time teaching our children how to eat properly, it seems. A new study, published in today's Science, reveals that meerkats go to great lengths to educate their young how to feed themselves. Researchers at Cambridge discovered that adults select dead animals for their youngest pups to eat at mealtimes. As the pups get older, however, the adults bring live prey along, disabling them before serving them up if they are dangerous creatures, such as scorpions. Eventually, however, they encourage the young meerkats to hunt and prepare their food under their own steam. Much of the teaching is done by specific "helpers". "Helpers will gradually introduce pups to live prey," scientist Alex Thornton told the BBC. "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. Then finally when the pups are approaching independence, the adults will give them live food that the pups have to deal with on their own," explained Dr Thornton. This is only the second example of teaching behaviour discovered in animals. Earlier this year scientists revealed that ants teach each other to locate food supplies.

1 comment:

Jeremyinc said...

Interesting post, some one has to teach them what to eat I guess! I went to the melbourne zoo and wrote a little blog post about meerkats too! Check it out Meerkats at Melbourne Zoo