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New respect for lemur learning

By John Published: January 12, 2011

Wired magazine has a fascinating story about how lemurs, once regarded as not-so-bright, have been observed teaching each other through example,  which is a way to transmit culture. This social learning ability that humans take for granted may have developed at least 63 million years ago when simian primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees and humans split off the evolutionary family tree from the prosimians such as lemurs. Click through on the link above for the whole story and some great lemur photography (courtesy of Daves Portfolio photostream on Flickr).

Black-and-white ruffed lemurs can learn to do complex tasks simply by watching a fellow member of their troop.

When researchers showed one lemur how to manipulate a simple snack machine, all other lemurs in its troop successfully performed the same trick on their first try. That lemurs can learn socially like their distant primate relatives, including apes and humans, suggests they possess an underpinning to human-like culture.

''We don't really understand how culture evolved,'' said primatologist Tara Stoinski of Zoo Atlanta, co-author of the upcoming study in Biology Letters. ''To do that, we need to look more broadly at primates and include lemurs in cognition research.''

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