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Humans, birds communicate to collaborate

Honeyguides, honey hunters stick together to find, break into bees’ hives

2:00pm, July 21, 2016
honey hunter in Mozambique

HONEY HELPER  A honey hunter in Mozambique holds a captured honeyguide on his finger. New research finds that honeyguides lead honey hunters to bees’ nests after hearing the humans make what amounts to a “join the hunt” call.

When asked the right way, a savvy bird species steers African hunter-gatherers to honey. All it takes is a loud trill followed by a grunt that sounds like “brrr-hm.”

Birds known as greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) lead hunter-gatherers in Mozambique to honey-rich bees’ nests after hearing humans make this signature call, say evolutionary ecologist Claire Spottiswoode of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues. In exchange, the birds get human-aided access to perilous-to-reach food, the scientists report in the July 22 Science.

The new study provides the first solid evidence of two-way, collaborative communication between humans and a nonhuman animal in the wild. In some parts of the world, dolphins help fishermen herd fish into nets. But it’s unclear whether these dolphins respond to specific calls from fishermen.


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