Access keys

Skip to content Accessibility Home News, events and publications Site map Search Privacy policy Help Contact us Terms of use

Animal cultures: Nature's second inheritance system

Animal cultures: Nature's second inheritance system. Catherine Hobaiter

The team

From the University of St Andrews, University of Exeter, Newcastle University and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Edinburgh Zoo:

  • Professor Andrew Whiten
  • Professor Kevin Laland
  • Dr Luke Rendell
  • Dr Christian Rutz
  • Dr Lewis Dean
  • Dr Erica van de Waal
  • Mr Steve Smart
  • Dr Alex Thornton
  • Dr Elizabeth (Bess) Price
  • Ms Alaina Macri
  • Mr Stephen Woollard

The science behind the exhibit

It’s easy to think that human culture completely separates our species from others. Our BBSRC-sponsored research has instead revealed cultural processes of varying complexity in primates, birds and fish. Observational and experimental studies have identified cultural differences across different wild populations and shown migrating individuals conforming to local group habits. Controlled experiments seeded foraging techniques in animal groups and mapped the spread of these techniques, creating local traditions. Our discoveries highlight a potent ‘second inheritance system’ in animals that complements genetics. This illuminates human cultural evolution, and has implications in areas as varied as child development, robotics, welfare and conservation.

About the exhibit

  • Take the role of a chimpanzee and learn new tool use from other chimps
  • Watch a new predatory strategy of whales spread across the community
  • Try your hand at acquiring New Caledonian Crow grub-fishing techniques
  • Transfer model monkeys between groups to see if they conform to local norms
  • Explore evidence for ‘teaching’ and social learning by meerkats
  • See how being ‘well connected’ shapes information flow in groups of monkeys


These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.

Animal cultures: Nature's second inheritance system