Can the honeyguide show us a new way to connect with nature? | Opinion | The Guardian
The story of our relationship with the Greater Honeyguide, which has That is, you can see humans following birds to the bees' nests, and you. Enter the greater honeyguide, an unassuming black and white bird about the Not only did they lead foragers to more bee's nests in a shorter Speculatively, it spurred thoughts of how such a relationship may have evolved. African honey-guide birds are known to regularly lead human guiding behavior in relation to direction of successfully located bees' nests.
Enter the Honeyguide, a bird that has the ability to find the nests. This has led, over God knows how many years, to a mutualism between bird and humans. As the birds fly ahead, the humans keep making that call, which keeps them aligned with the birds. Finally, the bird stops in the nest area, and, more often than not, the humans find the nest, extracting the honey and most of the honeycomb. The humans leave behind wax and perhaps some honey for the birds, which consume it. So we have here a true mutualism, a wonderful alliance of bird and human that benefits each one.
And are the birds accurate in leading humans to the nests? The classical story does seem accurate, as without humans the birds have no way of getting either wax or honey.
Honeyguide - Wikipedia
It turns out that the story is indeed true. The authors had two questions: Does the guiding behavior give reliable information to humans about where the bees are? The answer is yes: On the right part of the figure below, you can see that the birds are damn good; on average, their initial direction of flight was only 1.
Those birds know where the nests are! A A Yao honey-hunter and a wild, free-living honeyguide. These recordings were then played back on 72 forays into the field. The results were clear, and are shown in the figure below. On the left side Ayou see the probability of being guided by a honeyguide when different calls were played.
And again, the recorded brrr-hmmm call led to finding a nest Clearly, the traditional call is better at inciting birds to guide. These results show that a wild animal correctly attaches meaning and responds appropriately to a human signal of recruitment toward cooperative foraging, a behavior previously associated with only domestic animals, such as dogs.
Although humans use many species as foraging partners, including falcons, dogs, and cormorants, these involve trained or domesticated individuals that are specifically taught to cooperate. Humans want the honey.
The birds want the bee grubs. The bird leads the humans to the honey and both species come out of the deal happier than when they went in. In biological terms, this is mutualism. Though humans get something out of it, we are undoubtedly being exploited in the process.
Mutualism like this is quite rare in nature, mostly because natural selection lacking any kind of foresight or sense of fair play is so readily drawn to those that cheat. Partnerships inevitably break down, relationships shatter. There is no special tune that we can sing to magically attract nearby hedgehogs into our gardens to feast on slugs. There will never be a special wink that fishermen can offer otters, encouraging them to catch fish that we might then de-bone for them, in return for some of the catch.
The world is poorer for this. Perhaps it is because, for all our intelligence, we still lack the foresight to trust.
Perhaps, like so many other creatures, we are too readily drawn to cheating. It is hard to be sure. There are many relationships between humans and animals that come close to mutualism, however.
Think of the traditional fishermen of Japan and Chinawith their cormorants that they send to the depths of rivers to collect fish that they then share with their masters. Think of the rats that locate landmines in exchange for treats.
That hawk they get out at Wimbledon every year. There is only one hand on the tiller, steering it toward human profit — a human one. We own the deal, nearly always, when we work with other animals. And they become, bit-by-bit, spoilt as a result. Not that the honeyguide is a saint, of course.