London, May 1 : A new study has indicated that meerkats - small mammals and members of the Mongoose family, which are not thought to have any great levels of intelligence, routinely teach their pups how to hunt.
According to a report in New Scientist, Alex Thornton of the University of Cambridge carried out the study.
Although meerkats live in large colonies, they tend to be solitary hunters. That means meerkat pups can't learn how to hunt by simply joining the adult foraging expeditions, according to Thornton.
Neither is it likely that they will serendipitously learn how to deal with scorpions and other tasty morsels, he added.
"Young pups are rubbish at foraging. They virtually never find difficult prey items like scorpions," said Thornton.
Instead, adult meerkats actively show pups how to forage.
They do so by catching the scorpions themselves and presenting the dead arthropods to the pups. As the pups grow older and more experienced, adults switch to presenting the pups with living scorpions, to help the pupils hone their killing skills.
However, although that behaviour may appear intelligent, Thornton found that the adult's behaviour is simply prompted by changes in pup begging calls. It's unlikely that the adult meerkats possess a "theory of mind" that allows them to see the world through the pup's eyes.
According to Thornton, it makes sense for adult meerkats to teach scorpion-hunting skills to pups - even if those pups are not their own - because the meerkat group grows once the pups learn to fend for themselves.
"A large group is less likely to be predated, which means individuals can spend more time foraging," he said.