Otters learn from each other—but solve some puzzles alone

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Asian short-clawed otters. Credit: Madison Bowden-Parry

Otters learn skills from each other—but they also solve some mysteries alone, new research shows.

University of Exeter scientists gave Asian short-clawed “puzzle boxes” containing familiar , and unfamiliar natural prey—the meat inside of which was protected by hard outer shells.

The otters in the study, which live at Newquay Zoo and the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Center, decided whether food was safe and desirable to eat by learning from each other.

But they used their own wits—not the example of others—to figure out how to extract the from their protection.

“Much of research into the extractive foraging and learning capabilities of otters has focused on artificial food puzzles,” said lead author Alex Saliveros, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Here, we were interested in investigating such skills in the context of unfamiliar natural prey, as well as in relation to artificial food puzzles.”

The team studied the otters’ before the food tests, meaning the scientists knew how often each associated with other individuals.

Social learning could then be measured by seeing whether close associates learned quickly from each other.

The otters were given five variations of the puzzle box, each with a meatball (a familiar food) visible inside. The method to extract the food varied in each version—with solutions including pulling a tab and opening a flap.

The natural prey were (which acted as more of a control given their lack of a protective shell), shore crabs and blue mussels.

Of the 20 otters in the study, 11 managed to extract the meat from all three types of natural prey.

“Asian short-clawed otter populations are declining in the wild, and understanding their behavior can help in the development of conservation and reintroduction programs,” said Saliveros.

“The captive otters in this study initially struggled with natural prey, but they showed they can learn how to extract the food.

“Our findings suggest that if you give one otter pre-release training, it can pass some of that information on to others.”

The paper, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, is entitled: “Captive Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) learn to exploit unfamiliar natural .”



More information:
Captive Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) learn to exploit unfamiliar natural prey, Royal Society Open Science (2022). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.211819. royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.211819

Citation:
Otters learn from each other—but solve some puzzles alone (2022, June 7)
retrieved 8 June 2022
from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-otters-otherbut-puzzles.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Puzzled otters learn from each other thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Puzzled otters learn from each other

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Asian short-clawed otters learn from each other when solving puzzles to get food, a new study shows. Credit: Yazmin Pullen

Asian short-clawed otters learn from each other when solving puzzles to get food, a new study shows.

University of Exeter researchers gave groups of otters a variety of transparent containers baited with meatballs. Each of these could be opened by twisting or pulling a particular lid or handle.

The otters saw each twice, several months apart. The researchers found that the otters solved puzzles 69% faster on average the second time—suggesting a capacity for long-term memory.

The findings also provide evidence of ““—as when one cracked a puzzle, its closest “friends” quickly figured it out too.

“Asian short-clawed otters are declining in the wild, partly due to overfishing and pollution affecting the crustaceans and small fish they feed on,” said lead author Alex Saliveros, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“With that in mind, we wanted to understand more about how they learn and remember information about new food sources.

“Being able to catch new prey in new ways, and to pass on that knowledge, could be important in terms of conservation.

Asian short-clawed otters attempting a puzzle to get food. Credit: Muddy Duck Productions
Asian short-clawed otters learn from each other when solving puzzles to get food, a new study shows. Credit: Georgina Hume

“Our study is the first to show evidence of social learning and long-term memory in Asian short-clawed otters—which may be good news in terms of their adaptability and future survival.”

By building up a picture of “social networks” (which otters spent more time together) before presenting them with the puzzles, the researchers were able to see how problem-solving techniques passed through the otter groups.

Senior author Dr. Neeltje Boogert said: “We previously found that smooth-coated otters learn from each other.

“Now that we know Asian short-clawed otters do so as well, we can start investigating how we might transmit critical survival information regarding new foods and predators through wild otter groups more generally.”

The paper, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, is entitled: “Learning strategies and in Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus).”



More information:
“Learning strategies and long-term memory in Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus)” Royal Society Open Science (2020). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.201215

Citation:
Puzzled otters learn from each other (2020, November 10)
retrieved 11 November 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-puzzled-otters.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.