Birds Lead Humans To Honey

In Mozambique, human honey hunters communicate and cooperate with a species of bird called the greater honeyguide in order to find bee hives. They do this by making a certain vocalization to the birds that they are ready to be guided. The birds come to where the humans are and then begin taking them to the locations. The human call which is made sounds like, “brrrr-hm.”

Greater_Honeyguide,_Gambia“Honey-hunters in Mozambique use special calls to signal to honeyguides that they’re eager to follow,” explained researcher Claire Spottiswoode, an evolutionary biologist. The abstract of the research study says, “We show experimentally that a specialized vocal sound made by Mozambican honey-hunters seeking bees’ nests elicits elevated cooperative behavior from honeyguides. The production of this sound increased the probability of being guided by a honeyguide from about 33 to 66% and the overall probability of thus finding a bees’ nest from 17 to 54%, as compared with other animal or human sounds of similar amplitude. These results provide experimental evidence that a wild animal in a natural setting responds adaptively to a human signal of cooperation.”

The birds are motivated to help humans because sometimes after the humans have taken the honey, beeswax is left over  which the birds eat. They were not trained by humans, or coerced to guide them. Somehow this mutually beneficial cooperation emerged on its own.

Another example of interspecies cooperation: in Brazil dolphins and fisherman collaborate to catch fish, and the fisherman share some of their catch as compensation.

Of course, non-human species don’t have to do anything for humans to have value. They have their own value and lives which is independent of us. Another aspect of this bird to human cooperation is that they birds obviously have to be intelligent enough to communicate and provide the service. However, some humans don’t believe that other species are intelligent.

Image Credit: gisela gerson lohman-braunCC BY-SA 2.0


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