Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Otters learn by copying each other

August 29, 2017

Otters can learn how to solve puzzles by watching and copying each other, new research shows.

Scientists created a series of puzzles baited with food, and found smooth-coated otters watched and copied each other's problem-solving techniques - with young otters more likely to copy than their parents.

But another species - Asian short-clawed otters - showed no sign of copying each other.

Many otter species are classified as threatened, vulnerable or endangered, and the researchers say their study may help improve efforts to reintroduce otters into the wild.

"Social learning has been studied in many species, but never in otters," said Dr Neeltje Boogert, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"Our results suggest smooth-coated otters adopt a 'copy when young' strategy.

"The offspring in our study learned how to solve these puzzles much quicker than their parents - more than six times faster.

"The order in which the young otters solved the puzzles followed the strength of their social ties. This indicates that the juveniles copied those siblings they spent most time with."

The otters, which were studied in zoos and wildlife parks in the UK, were given puzzles such as Tupperware containers with clips on the lid, screw-top lids or pull-off lids.

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