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Animal Social Complexity - Intelligence and Culture 245

danny writes "How are brain size and intelligence related to social complexity? What are the evolutionary underpinnings of cooperation? How sophisticated are animal communication and social cognition? And do animals have culture? Read on for my review of Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies."
Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence and Culture
author Frans de Waal and Peter Tyack
pages 616 pages
publisher Harvard University Press
rating 9
reviewer Danny Yee
ISBN 0674009290
summary 18 papers on primates, cetaceans, other mammals and birds

How are brain size and intelligence related to social complexity? What are the evolutionary underpinnings of cooperation? How sophisticated are animal communication and social cognition? And do animals have culture? These are some of the broad questions addressed by the eighteen papers in Animal Social Complexity, which look not only at primates and cetaceans, but also at hyenas, elephants, bats, and birds. The common focus is on societies that are individualized, with members recognising each other as individuals, and stable, with long-lived members and on-going relationships, and in which there are learned survival skills and social behaviours. Some of the papers are overviews of particular species or taxa, some address specific questions in the context of a particular species, and some present cross-species comparisons.

Consisting of the papers from a conference held in 2000, Animal Social Complexity is a professional volume, complete with a hundred pages of references. But the topics covered are of widespread interest, and the multi- and inter-disciplinary nature of the papers makes them mostly accessible to the lay reader.

Carel Van Schaik and Robert Deaner present a life history perspective on cognitive evolution: demonstrating a link between social complexity and intelligence/brain size is complicated because both are correlated with long life spans. Randall Wells presents an outline of dolphin social complexity based on long-term studies on the communities in Sarasota Bay, Florida. And Katy Payne gives an overview of social complexity in the three elephant species.

Christophe Boesch describes examples of complex cooperation among Tai chimpanzees, in group hunts for monkeys and in territorial conflict with other chimpanzee groups. Christine Drea and Laurence Frank describe the social system of spotted hyenas and argue that more attention should be paid to social complexity in carnivores. It has commonly been argued that social stress is a consequence of subordination; Scott Creel and Jennifer Sands present evidence suggesting that it may in fact be a cost of domination, at least in some species.

Three of the papers debate the underlying mechanisms of social cognition. Ronald Schusterman et al. argue for equivalence classifications as a basic structure. In contrast, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney argue that "nonhuman primates are innately predisposed to group other individuals into hierarchical classes". And for Frans de Waal the conditionality of behaviour suggests a role for if-then structures in primate "social syntax".

Taking a comparative approach to laughter and smiling in primates, Jan Van Hoof and Signe Preuschoft find that "laughter has evolved in the context of joyful play, and that the broad smile has evolved as an expression of nonhostility and friendliness, taking its origin in the expression of fearful submission". Looking at vocal learning in four parrot species from Costa Rica, Jack Bradbury suggests that in "ecology, social organization, and vocal communication, parrots appear to be more convergent with dolphins than they are with other birds".

Gerald Wilkinson looks to bats for an independent test of the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis, probing the relationships between brain size, vocal complexity, and colony size. And Peter Tyack explores bottlenose dolphins' use of signature whistles in communicating social relationships.

Following in the footsteps of Imanishi, pioneer of Japanese primatology, Tetsuro Matsuzawa considers, as examples of "culture", sweet potato washing among Koshima monkeys and nut cracking using stone tools by Bossou chimpanzees. Toshisada Nishida describes the "flexibility and individuality of cultural behavior patterns" among chimpanzees at Mahale. And in "Ten Dispatches from the Chimpanzee Culture Wars" William McGrew gives an overview of the arguments between cultural anthropologists, psychologists, and primatologists (among others) over chimpanzee culture -- and over the definition of culture.

Hal Whitehead looks at sperm whales, the cetacean culture debate more generally, and the possible effects of "cultural hitchhiking" on genetic diversity. And Meredith West et al. find a critical role for social interaction in learning and development in cowbirds and starlings.

In addition to the eighteen papers, there are a dozen shorter "case studies" which tackle narrower questions. Animal Social Complexity is an important contribution to the scientific literature. And it has a wealth of material for anyone fascinated by social animals and not intimidated by scientific methodology, a little bit of statistics, references and scholarly language.

Danny Yee has written over 700 book reviews. You can purchase Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence and Culture from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Animal Social Complexity - Intelligence and Culture

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  • Yeasts have culture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djeaux ( 620938 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:00PM (#8251462) Homepage Journal
    But I wish the "blurb" had left brain size out of the mix. If brain size has anything to do with intelligence (within a group), then humans would be in the zoo & elephants would be running the show.

    Once I read "brain size," all I could do was think of the efforts -- well discussed in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man -- of 19th and 20th century physical anthropologists to use "brain size is correlated with intelligence" to justify racism & sexism.

    The only thing that brain size is really correlated with is body size. Cattle have larger brains than most monkeys. Men have larger brains than women. Blacks have larger brains than whites.

    Sounds to me like the anthropologists are out looking for grant money...

  • by MarkWatson ( 189759 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:02PM (#8251487) Homepage
    ..which is something that a lot of people seem difficulties doing.

    Don't get me wrong: nothing wrong with planning for the future, or in a quiet moment remembering cool stuff that we did with our grandparents when they were still alive, but almost all of our thoughts are best focused on what we are doing now.

    BTW, I too often rant to my friends and family about what I consider to be an indication of the fall of western civilization: too many people are caught up in a lust for material possessions - I think that is just another aspect of not living in the moment.


  • Dolphins. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bad enema ( 745446 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:04PM (#8251514)
    I distinctively remember hearing on a radio talk show (Coast to Coast, late night) that there has been research and soft "evidence" that dolphins form very complex societies, and that they even understand and practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of the population.

    But whether or not we as humans regard such a practice as "cultural" or "savage" is another issue altogether.
  • by antdude ( 79039 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:04PM (#8251519) Homepage Journal
    They are social insects and they work together (in the same family) in growing, foraging for food, etc. Ants do not have big brains, they are complex as a group. Ants socialize by chemical odors to attack, defend, forage for food, etc.
  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:08PM (#8251567) Homepage Journal
    Brain size (in terms of mass) does not have everything to do with intelligence, rather I would more likely believe that brain size (in terms of computational circuits) would be more appropriate. For instance, while human brains are not as big as elephants, we have evolved a convoluted surface topology of the brain to maximize total cortical area devoted to processing. To an impressive degree, so have elephants, but check [] out their overall topology. elephants have HUGE temporal lobes that may have significance in terms of auditory processing.

    You also have to consider that elephant brains while larger actually are a smaller percentage of total body weight than human brains.

  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:09PM (#8251572) Homepage Journal
    Called Natural Horsemanship []. A technique that is based on deep understanding of horses social structures.
    Your first step is to teach the horse you mean no danger. Become a -safe- element of the environment. No matter what goes on, the horse feels fine with you.
    Second step: Get the horse to recognise you as another horse. Of course no hooves, no eating grass. But typical horse behaviours. Horses yield from pressure from other horses but push against predators. Horses rarely approach each other directly, usually go along some rather obscure curves. And so on...
    Third step: Gain leadership of the herd. Challenging the horse, duelling it, in a special kind of fight that doesn't involve violence, but charisma. Strong, hard looks, stepping forward, making the oponent lose ground...
    And then polishing the communication. Getting the horse used to unusual situation, generally utilising newly gained power.
    Horses that were proclaimed "lost" by the best classical trainers, were "recovered" and wildest ones became nice and gentle thanks to "horse whisperers" as those who practice natural horsemanship are sometimes called.
  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by catbutt ( 469582 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:09PM (#8251574)
    Ants bees and termites have an advantage when it comes to social complexity though: because they have a queen (rather than the workers reproducing directly) a fundamentally different Darwinian dynamic happens, that encourages cooperation. It's not intelligence as much as it is their evolutionary "motivators" that cause them to work together as they do rather than compete with each other as other animals often do.

    (Note that a worker bee is designed to die when it stings, since its only motivation is what is good for the colony, rather than what is good for itself. That would *never* happen in a species where all the individuals could reproduce directly.)
  • dolphins (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snarkh ( 118018 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:16PM (#8251646)
    Here is an interesting table:

    Species Brain Weight as % of Body Weight
    human 2.10
    bottlenose dolphin 0.94
    African elephant 0.15
    killer whale 0.09
    cow 0.08
    sperm whale (male) 0.02
    fin whale 0.01 .h tml
  • Re:Interesting idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dustmote ( 572761 ) <fleck55&hotmail,com> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:19PM (#8251680) Homepage Journal
    I would think it would relate more to learned patterns of behavior, though, and exclude instinctive behaviors. Like the flocking simulators they set up in the early 90's that showed that bird behaviors in flocks can be simplified to a few set rules, more or less. I think culture is transmitted information, not encoded. That's just IMHO, of course.
  • by weeboo0104 ( 644849 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:25PM (#8251741) Journal
    As the owner of an African Grey parrot, I see everyday how brain size affects communication and social cognition. My Grey tells me "Wanna go to bed" when she is tired, says "Want food", "Want water", "Want a toy", and want scratch whenever she wants one of these other things. She also identifies people by name. My grey (her name is Elmo. I thought she was male until she was DNA tested) also knows how to say "I love you". Earlier in the year, she started learning that women aren't all named the name of my ex-girlfriend. I have a female roomate and a girlfriend now and Elmo started listening for whoever was in the house at the time and saying "I love $PROPERNAME" Whenever she wanted to interact with that person and would also just call them by name.

    I have a lot of other stories too. My slashdot name is based on the name "Weeboo" which is what Elmo named me for some reason.

    If you want to read more about avian (specifically African Grey) cognitive ability, try going to [] to read more about an African Grey named Alex and Dr. Irene Pepperbergs [] research with interspecies communication and animal cognitive ability.
  • by bad enema ( 745446 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:27PM (#8251764)
    One of the staples of culture as we define it is musical achievement. It has been demonstrated that certain animals can "play" the piano with more complexity than simply banging their beaks/paws on the keys. That is, they can both recognize musical tunes and harmony and demonstrate the capacity to mimic the sounds.

    Now considered separately, meither of the abilities to mimic nor to differentiate between pleasant and unplesant sounds is truly "cultural", or more cultural than instinctive. However, this is where we certainly run into a question of the definition of culture -and what exactly makes us as humans gifted with it and not any other animal.
  • Re:Interesting idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NixLuver ( 693391 ) <> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:27PM (#8251771) Homepage Journal
    From reading the review, I assumed that the differentiation was individualization of groups; i.e., a given group of chimpanzees has characteristic behaviors, and another group has a different set of characteristic behaviors; this would tend to indicate learned behaviors as a tribal imperative, or rudimentary culture - as distinguished from instinct. In fact, if these differences in common behaviors didn't exist, we would chalk up most special behaviors as instinctive, no?

  • Re:Interesting idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amplt1337 ( 707922 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:33PM (#8251832) Journal
    But no, animals do not have culture. When a dog writes "Marraige of Figaro" then it might be possible.
    Well, when you write "Marriage of Figaro" maybe I'll listen to your judgments on other species.

    Meanwhile, "culture" is something everyday, that we all participate in, rather than strictly the highbrow Culture with a capital C.

    And who's to say that dogs don't have an extremely elevated aesthetic sensibility that's just beyond the grasp of our (differently limited) human brains?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:37PM (#8251869)
    First, define intelligence. :) The problem with this kind of research is that intelligence isn't (as yet) quantifiable, only qualifiable and only in very abstract terms.

    We have two known examples of demonstrable lateral thinking on the part of avians. Grey Parrots have shown an ability to actually understand sentances containing verbs, adverbs, adjectives and the indefinite article. They also exhibit the ability to handle basic arithmetic.

    Crows, on the other hand, have been shown to be able to study problems, manufacture tools from raw materials, and use those tools to solve those problems.

    It's easy to argue that these cases are only over a very limited range of conditions, and under very controlled conditions. And that's all true.

    The point I'm making is that if we use a simple definition of intelligence - say the ability to handle abstract concepts, logical and lateral thinking, and the ability to handle conceptual modelling (which is basically what a language is), then intelligence is amazingly common on Earth.

    Hey, that's not too bad a definition, but it includes too wide a range of life. It becomes useless as a definition, because so little is excluded.

    Now we move onto society. If we do a basic study of human society, we see that reptilian traits (eg: the ability to act/react without thought) are far more highly prized than mammalian traits (eg: the ability to have emotional associations, the ability to form bonds that have nothing to do with personal gain, etc).

    From a strict study of current social patterns, humans are probably one of the most primitive of all the mammals. The preference of using the older, reflexive parts of the brain, over and above the emotional and intellectual parts, is definitely regressive.

    Modern society is the way it is because it actually works. Many things, from riding a bicycle to karate, would be impossible if there was a heavy dependence on the "thinking" parts of the brain.

    My point? Societies are going to evolve towards whatever works well, though not necessarily for the same reasons, and are not necessarily constrained to the social norms.

    In consequence, any such study is going to be extremely difficult to do. There are a lot of unknowns, and many of them are unknowable. Further, social studies often fall into the "soft" sciences, which are badly-funded and often badly-run.

    The papers are worth reading, but I'm not confident that those doing the research know enough to do the research well. I'm not even sure anyone does. That makes the results suspect, even if the actual studies themselves are of value.

  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:37PM (#8251870)
    if your parrot had offspring, would it teach them what it knows?
  • One Way Relationship (Score:3, Interesting)

    by $lingBlade ( 249591 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:44PM (#8251966)
    It seems to me that humans are involved in a one-way relationship with every other animal on the planet. If there were a mass extinction of humans, through anything other than a species-hopping virus and/or global thermonuclear war, if we simply *weren't* here anymore, animals (in my opinion) would continue to live and thrive. If our extinction was not based on any environmental factors other than social issues.

    I would say that it's their *lack of society* that makes other animals so strong... the way they seemingly operate on instinct and loosely defined (by our conventions) social structures. Oscillating (beyond our understanding) between these two polar opposites. If however all the animals on the planet were suddenly gone, including insects, I think we'd probably last a few years or less. Point is, we need them, they *don't* need us. What's more, I believe we could learn a lot from them in terms of living socially. And I mean that in a sincere way not a dig against us as humans but as suggestion that just because we appear to be the most intellectually motivated species on the planet, doesn't mean we're automatically right and just in our endeavours.

    I'm reminded of the line from Aliens when they're discussing the impending break-in of the aliens and someone says something to the effect of "you don't see them fucking one another over for a share".

  • Re:Do animals dance? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Slick_Snake ( 693760 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:46PM (#8251990) Journal
    I've seen various birds do it all the time. These included the more intelegent birds such as parrots and macaws. I noticed that some of them only did it to certain song that they "liked."
  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SparafucileMan ( 544171 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:58PM (#8252143)
    We refer to the communal insects as workers, drones, and queens, and you're assuming that they view eachother in the same fashion. For all we know, they refer to themselves as "worker who's good at finding x part of y leaf", "worker who's good at regurgitating food", "worker who's exceptionally good at cleaning off the young"...etc etc. The biology terms are just convenient classifications for us stupid, time-strapped humans and do not refect reality.
  • Re:dolphins (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gunark ( 227527 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:58PM (#8252146)
    You made some pretty glaring omissions:

    lesser short-tailed shrew 2.80%
    little brown bat 2.50%
    mouse 1.30%

    The brain weight as percentage of body weight thing just doesn't work. What you're looking for is the "encephalization factor".

    The formula for that is:

    brain weight
    (body weight) ^ .69

    Done this way, brain vs. body weight works in our favor (the human encephalization factor is .71, higher than anything else).
  • Smart (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SparafucileMan ( 544171 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @04:07PM (#8252246)
    There's a species of tropical birds (sorry I forget the name) where the male is responsible for building the house. So it gathers all the sticks and builds itself a multi-story house. Then is clears out the ground floor so its nice and clean. Then it goes out and gathers the finest flowers it can find and groups them into a pile on the ground floor. It does the same thing with the finest fruits. Then it lines the entrance-way to the house with some more fruit. Then, very proud of itself, it calls for the females to come check out his crib. Whoever builds the nicest house gets the hottest chicks. If that's not "smart and intelligent", then I don't know what is. And no, I'm not making this up.
  • by Mouth of Sauron ( 196971 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @04:09PM (#8252265)
    While I wouldn't say they have 'culture' they do exhibit a high amount of social complexity. But are they more or less complex than the Naked Mole Rat, [] the only mammal that lives in a colony like hive insects?
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @04:48PM (#8252727)
    A peculiarity in the genetics (haplodiploidy) of insects in the order Hymenoptera is the likely underlying cause of the evolution of sociality in ants, bees, and wasps. While females (all worker bees, ants, wasps, etc. are female) have two sets of chromosomes, males only have one. This affects the relatedness of individuals. In particular, haplodiploidy makes an ant, for example, more related to its sisters than to its own daughters and sons. For ants, bees, and wasps, the most selfish way to pass on your genes is to raise more sisters. As a result, social behavior appears to independently evolved as many as 11 times in Hymenopterans -- appearing several times in the ancestors of what we now know as ants, bees, and wasps.

    Sometime being social is the most selfish strategy possible.
  • by BigBadBri ( 595126 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @05:42PM (#8253362)
    You're lucky.

    Our Grey's psychotic - he hates men, and will only interact with women.

    He recognises the names of different foods, and you can list them - banana, carrot, beans, peas, nuts, etc - and he will say 'Want Some!' when you get to what he wants, and he will ask for particular items if he sees you eating them.

    Trouble is, only my girlfriend and daughter can feed him - I have to lob whatever it is in his dish, or he'll try to take my finger off.

    Pepperberg was on BBC Radio the other week - it was a great half-hour of radio.

  • Rattlesnakes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigBadBri ( 595126 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @05:49PM (#8253443)
    On the BBC today - rattlesnakes have social lives [].

    I'd never thought of snakes as social before, but this looks like interesting research.

  • by readpunk ( 683053 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @06:03PM (#8253595) Journal
    If you are serious in studying this and other sociology/nature/behaviour styled stuff. Check out "Mutual Aid" by Kropotkin. It gives the anti-social darwinism view of nature and relationships in nature, supported by the ideas of Darwin himself.
  • by weeboo0104 ( 644849 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @06:57PM (#8254089) Journal
    It neither demonstrates knowledge nor understanding - just primitive cause-and-effect association

    Possibly. Of course if that were the case, then if she asked for juice and I gave her water, she wouldn't push away the water and ask for juice again. Food is just a generic term. Dr. Pepperbergs Grey identifies specific food items and even assigns names to new fruit. For example, he knew the words for bananna and cherry. When presented with an apple, he called it a banerry. Insides colored like a bananna, outsides red and shaped like a cherry.
  • by itzdandy ( 183397 ) < minus threevowels> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @07:17PM (#8254269) Homepage

    we don't need them. The planet needs animal life to support animal life. If all other animal life died out, only science and technology could save the remaining single species as it would overpopulate and ravage its food source.

    also, if all dog species died out, humans would not perish, not would many other species.

    if all humans die, just one species has been eliminated and most others would survive as they do now. Now if all ants died, that would be an ecological disaster and a number species would be lost as a result of one of the worlds most populous species being lost and its contributions to the landscape such as waste removal(dead animals)

    humans are not a form of life all unto themselves.

    the system is not plant, animal, human. we fit into the animal group!
  • by goon ( 2774 ) <<peterrenshaw> <at> <>> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @07:22PM (#8254304) Homepage Journal

    this post is spot on. In David Suzuki's [] latest series, The Sacred Balence [] , he talked to a scientist Brian Goodman [] about Ants. Goodman gathered data on the communication between ants that are working and ants not working.

    • "... Some kind of collective emergent behaviour will be observed as the result of local coupling. In neural organizations, retrieval of associative memory (and maybe consciousness) can be thought of as emergent properties. ..." ( [])

    Plotting the results, he found that once the number of connections between ants got to a particular number, the results created a sort of harmonic wave representing systematic organisation occuring. This goes some way to explaining how multitude of ants, each with specialised behaviour and functions know what to do just at the right time.

    There's a simulation on this page [] (java applet) with detailed information (or where to get it) on the maths behind the model.

  • by bettiwettiwoo ( 239665 ) <bettiwettiwoo&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @09:07PM (#8255109) Homepage Journal
    ... the way they seemingly operate on instinct and loosely defined (by our conventions) social structures.
    I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean by 'loosely defined [...] social structures'. A lot of species live in groups with very clearly defined structures and roles: who's the alpha male/female and who isn't, for example, which decides who gets to eat first, who gets to drink first, who gets to mate etc etc. The individual fulfilling each role may of course vary -- for instance, alpha male gets old and tired and eventually gets ousted from his alpha male position by up-and-coming alpha male-to-be -- nevertheless, the structure of the hierarchy itself (the structure of the group/society) does not change (in my example the position of alpha male remains).

    If however all the animals on the planet were suddenly gone, including insects, I think we'd probably last a few years or less.
    Why? Let's face it: so far -- I admit that it might be hard to extrapolate with any larger degree of certainty as humankind is such a new species -- it appears to me that humans are some sort of larger equivalent to rats and cockroaches.

    Think about it.

    First of all we can eat almost anything: animal or vegetarian, the choice is yours, your body will be able to derive nourishment from either (didn't your mama ever teach you about vegetables?) -- although on a purely vegan diet vitamin B12 might be a bit of a problem.

    Secondly, we appear to be able to live under almost any conditions: Eskimos live in extreme cold; Africans in (sometime) extreme heat; desert people endure lack of water; during moonsoons people on the Asian sub-continent get drenched in water. Or look at those people who during the Middle Ages were tortured/imprisoned by being locked up into boxes in which they could neither sit nor stand nor lie down fully but had to half-sit/-stand: there were people who survived inside such boxes for years!

    Thirdly, some people seem unusually difficult to kill: when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki most people died but not all people did, some actually survived. They may have developed cancer in later years, their offspring might have developmental problems, but they survived: that's definitely cockroach quality! We also heal quite easily. Have you ever seen Star Gate? When the uber-alien says that it chose to reside in a human body because it was so easy to mend? That's actually true.

    Furthermore, because the human species is so 'young' there are signs that our evolution is still very much on-going: a genetic disposition to, I believe, sleeping sickness with particularly the Asian population carries with it a certain measure of immunity to malaria: that particular genetic mutation/change is a direct evolutionary response to the 'environmental' pressure of malaria. In other words, there is still ample room for improvement/change. If the world would all of a sudden become animal-less, odds are we would, after an initial period of adjustment of course, survive and prosper as a species.
  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by InstantCrisis ( 178129 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @09:29PM (#8255221)
    A previous post in this discussion remarked that culture is *transmitted* and not hardwired. Though the apis class structure is involunarily genetic/chemical, they do have language. A bee can do a dance that tells other bees where there is food. What is language except the ability to express the idea of something that isn't present/currently observable?

    I don't know if bee language is learned or hardwired, though. My instinct is to say learned because a lot of things can go wrong with hardwiring "five steps counterclockwise means the flower is 60' to the southeast."

    There are many organisms with larger brains and not nearly as much ability to transmit information. Ex: college math professors.

  • Animal Cultures (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GrumpySimon ( 707671 ) <{zn.ten.nomis} {ta} {liame}> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @09:56PM (#8255408) Homepage
    Over the past five years there's been a major research effort looking at primate cultures mainly under the guidance of Cristophe Boesch (Chimps - Pan troglodytes spp) and Carole van Schaik (Orang-utans - Pongo pygmaeus), and even Monkeys (the village idiots of the primate family) have been shown to have culture traits.

    Anyway, a great webpage on this from Boesch's team Chimpanzee Culture []

    See also -
    Whiten et al. Nature, 399:682-685
    van Schaik et al. (2003). Orangutan cultures and the evolution of material culture. Science 299:102-105.
    Perry & Manson (2003). Traditions in Monkeys. Evolutionary Anthropology 12:71-81

    Oh, and it's not only primates - Fish biologists have also jumped on board -
    Bshary et al (2002). Fish cognition: a primate's eye view. Animal Cognition 5:1-13

    which shows that fish can do all sorts of massively complex social behaviors - e.g. predator avoidance and something which is very cool, inter-specific (ie: different species co-operating) co-operative hunting. For example: Moray eels (Gymnothorax javanicus) and Red sea coral groupers (Plectropomus pessuliferus). The Morays sneak through holes whilst groupers wait to catch escaping fish - they actually 'go hunting together' and signal each other by shaking their bodies.

    Oh, and let's not forget the bird-people:
    Corvus Moneduloides []

    Hunt & Gray (2003). Diversification and cumulative evolution in New Caledonian crow tool manufacture. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences.

    Lefebvre et al (2002). Tools and Brains in Birds. Behaviour, 139, 939-973.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller