Inheriting Preference

Most animals develop individual feeding tastes which reflect the preferences of their gut microbiomes: the bacteria and other microbes which digest an animal’s food and provide nutrition to their host. The learned culinary preferences are passed on to offspring as an innate trait: a generational transfer of knowledge about what’s good to eat. So too in what seems good in a mate.

Adult animals – from worms to people – transmit information to their offspring before they are born. This mysterious phenomenon is known as precocious knowledge.

Precocious knowledge abets survival. Especially for animals which are precocial – never receiving parental upbringing – the instincts which arise from precocious knowledge prove an invaluable guide for staying alive in a dangerous world.

Research teams recently looked at the feeding and mating preferences of squinting bush brown butterflies: a small butterfly native to woodlands in eastern Africa. These butterflies are liked by researchers because of their size, short breeding cycle, and being easy to care for.

Male butterflies practice mud-puddling: ganging up on wet soil and dung to loosen the substrate and suck up nutrients. Showing more refined behavior in their dining, females don’t dig in dirt or dung to eat.

Bush brown butterflies are herbivores (plant eaters, also known as phytophagans). “Many phytophagous insects have strong preferences for their host plants, which they recognize via odors,” explains Spanish entomologist Antónia Monteiro. Via experiments, Monteiro and his team found that these “butterflies can learn to prefer novel host plant odors via exposure to them during larval development and transmit these learned preferences to their offspring.” Thus, newborn larvae can take advantage of what their parents discovered during their lives.

Bush brown males emit pheromones to attract mates. Bush brown courtship is highly plastic in female preference for specific male scents. “Mating bias for new blends can develop following a short learning experience, and that this maternal experience impacts the mating outcome of offspring without further exposure,” reports French entomologist Emilie Dion. “Insects are not only driven by their instincts, but can also learn,” Dion added.

Matterist geneticists would point to genic codes and epigenetic marks as explaining precocious knowledge. But such molecular artifacts are mere residues which cannot explain how preferences develop or become actionable environmental knowledge in offspring who never had any relevant experience.

Precious knowledge indicates that coherent, immaterial, energetic forces are behind the physicality which manifests. The paradigmatic principle which explains this is energyism.


Squinting bush brown butterfly (Bicyclus anynana anynana) photo courtesy of Charles J. Sharp.

Ishi Nobu, Unraveling Reality: Behind the Veil of Existence, BookBaby (2019).

Ishi Nobu, The Elements of Evolution, BookBaby (2019).

Emilie Dion et al, “Early-exposure to new sex pheromone blends alters mate preference in female butterflies and in their offspring,” Nature Communications (2 January 2020).

V. Gowri et al, “Transgenerational inheritance of learned preferences for novel host plant odors in Bicyclus anynana butterflies,” Evolution (9 October 2019).

Butterflies can acquire new scent preferences and pass these on to their offspring,” ScienceDaily (3 February 2020).