The Mongoose Shows It Has Traditions, Too
By SINDYA N. BHANOO
Study Shows Mongooses Pass Traditions From Generation To Generation
Grandma’s special cookie recipe. A young man’s first shaving lesson from his
father. A Sweet 16 party.
These are all traditions of various sorts, passed down from generation to
generation. In humans, traditions shape families, cultures and religions.
Scientists have observed traditions in animals, too, but most convincingly in
captive animals, according to the authors of a report in the June 3 issue of
For the first time, they say, a study shows that traditions are passed on among
mammals in the wild. They report that young Ugandan mongooses learn foraging
strategies from their elders, imitating the specific behavior of an adult role
model rather than following the group.
Pups spend the first two months after birth in the company of an older escort,
generally a brother, cousin or uncle. The scientists left out plastic eggs
containing a mixture of rice and fish and trailed about 200 adult mongooses and
pups. Because mongooses enjoy eating hard-shelled items like bird eggs and
rhinoceros beetles, the rice-filled plastic eggs artificially simulated this.
Adult mongooses had two ways of breaking into the eggs. The first was to hold
them in their front paws and bite into them. The second method was to smash them
by hurling them against hard surfaces like stones or trees.
Pups watched the specific techniques that their escorts used, and after they
entered adulthood, they mimicked those when scientists left plastic eggs out for
This act of passing on a foraging preference from one mongoose to another can be
seen as a tradition, said Corsin Müller, the study’s lead author and a
postdoctoral fellow at the University of Vienna. He conducted the study while at
the University of Exeter.