The Web of Life (126-2) Culture & Intelligence


Honeybees forage over a broad terrain. They then go back to the hive to report environmental conditions and the prospects for fruitful harvesting. This involves maintaining an extensive mental map, then translating specific directions and other salient information into a cogent report that others can understand and appreciate.

The hallmark of social intelligence is culture: the transfer of knowledge among conspecifics, and from one generation to the next. Culture is prevalent throughout the tree of life as an integral aspect of sociality. Horizontal gene transfer among bacteria is a cultural exchange.

Culture is about learning from others. ~ Canadian zoologist Hal Whitehead

Bumblebees socially learn in picking up harvesting techniques by imitating those used by other species. Sometimes they communicate tips among themselves. As they mature and garner knowledge, bees can solve increasingly complex problems.

Bees with experience are able to solve new problems that they encounter, while bees with no experience just give up. ~ Canadian zoologist Hamida Mirwan

 Great Tits

Social learning, in which animals learn from others, can enable novel behaviours to spread between individuals, creating group-level behaviours, including traditions and culture. ~ Lucy Aplin et al

People often feel bound to cultural traditions. They are not alone.

Great tits are small, ubiquitous passerines that live in woodlands. They watch other tits forage, learning both locations and techniques to harvesting food. This social learning is often adopted and passed on to offspring, creating cultural traditions. Political conservatives who value tradition for its own sake, these birds hew to social conformity, favoring socially acquired foraging knowledge over personal discovery.