Arnon Grunberg



On social learning and humans – The Economist:

‘When it comes to architectural accomplishments, humans like to think they stand at the top of the pyramid. That is to underestimate the astonishing achievements of social insects: termites raise skyscraping nests and honeybees fashion mesmerisingly geometric combs. The true master builders of the insect world, however, are the hundreds of species of stingless bee, native to the tropics and subtropics, which weave combs of unparalleled variety and intricacy inside hollow tree trunks or other cavities.
Now a group of evolutionary biologists led by Viviana Di Pietro at KU Leuven, in Belgium, reports that, like humans, these tiny-brained creatures are capable of building according to different architectural traditions which are then handed down over generations.’

‘Since S. depilis shows a strong preference for a horizontal-layer comb structure, it is surprising that spiral combs occur at all. Capturing the insects’ behaviour on video, the team established that there was no difference in average cell-building rate between the two styles, and hence no efficiency advantage to either.
In order to rule out a genetic explanation for the different styles, the researchers transplanted workers from colonies that built in one tradition to colonies that built in the other, having first emptied the host structures of their indigenous adults. The imported workers soon switched to the local style, which was then perpetuated by the colony’s own larvae as they eventually matured into workers.’


‘The team trained “demonstrator bees” to open a complicated two-step puzzle box (in which blue and red tabs had to be pushed out of the way to reveal a solution of sucrose), and then observed other insects learning the right technique from the demonstrators. Such cumulative culture, which does require social learning, was previously thought to be unique to humans. It may be long past time to make room at the top of that pyramid.’

Read the article here.

The uniqueness of humans has been crumbling quite a while already.
Which obviously an insult to some humans, others are happy to get rid of most if not all human claims to their godlike status.

Social learning is above all imitating.

Perhaps we should think of humans as the best imitator in the Animal Kingdom.

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