Meerkats learn to eat, according to reports in BBC News and ScienceNOW 13 July 2006, and Science vol. 313, p227, 14 July 2006. Scientists from Cambridge University UK have been studying the behaviour of meerkats, small carnivorous mammals that live in semi-arid regions of southern Africa. They live in family groups where one dominant couple produce most of the offspring, but other adults help raise the young. Their prey includes some potentially dangerous animals such as lizards, spiders and scorpions so the adults gradually teach the young animals how to recognise and safely kill prey animals. At first they provide dead prey, but as the pups grow older the adults disabled prey animals, e.g. removing the sting from scorpions, before giving them to the young to kill and eat. They then encourage the young to catch live prey and watch to see how they cope.

To test whether the young actually learned from the “lessons” the scientists raised three groups of young meerkats. One group was given dead scorpions to eat, another was given live scorpions with their sting removed and the other group was given a high protein but completely harmless diet of boiled egg. After three days of this diet the scientists tested all three groups with live scorpions. The group that had already been given live scorpions most easily managed to kill and eat them.


Editorial Comment: We suspect that all hunting and killing activities in both man and animals are learned activities, rather than built in instinct. Genesis tells us that all animals originally ate plants. However, after Noah’s flood the environment was seriously degraded, and many animals would not have been able to find enough nutritious plant food. Therefore, many animals took to eating other animals. Hunting prey requires intelligence and skill, not just brute force, so resourceful animals with strong social structures like meerkats were able to exploit a food source that other animals could not. (Ref. learning, diets, carnivores)

Evidence News 25 October 2006