Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monkey Eat, Monkey Drink

In an article published in Science on April 26, 2013, primatologists Erica van de Waal (no relation to eminent primatologist Frans de Waal), Christele Borgeaud, and Andrew Whiten presented experimental evidence that wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) may shift their individual culinary preferences of conform to those of their existing or adoptive troop. As the abstract of the article, entitled "Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate’s Foraging Decisions" explains,
wild vervet monkeys will abandon personal foraging preferences in favor of group norms new to them. Groups first learned to avoid the bitter-tasting alternative of two foods. Presentations of these options untreated months later revealed that all new infants naïve to the foods adopted maternal preferences. Males who migrated between groups where the alternative food was eaten switched to the new local norm. Such powerful effects of social learning represent a more potent force than hitherto recognized in shaping group differences among wild animals.
 More than a century ago, Charles Darwin made his own observation about simian dietary habits.  He observed that a
monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.
Combining this information, perhaps biologists now know enough to craft appropriate pairings of food and drink for primates.