What should people learn from non-people

Learning - knowing how - not only people learn for life

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Even the simplest of living things are capable of learning vital things. Without the phenomenon of learning, life on earth would be completely different. «NETZ NATUR» investigates the background.

Heini Gugelmannn is an animal teacher and lives with his small, unusual zoo in a wild, well-tended garden, far away from stinking traffic and hectic pace: his companions are “Blondie”, the 20-year-old miniature pig, “Ruby”, the Dalmatian bitch, the duck ladies “Daisy” "And" Amanda "and many others. In short, the entire four-legged and feathered ensemble of the «Circus Maus», with which Heini Gugelmann enthuses young and old again and again with his amiable show.

With a lot of patience and empathy, he taught all these animals amazing tricks: The Siamese cat Karlemann balances peacefully with two piebald rats on the high beam, the ducks slide down a ramp, two dogs jump at the same time through a double hoop that a third is holding with his mouth . You can feel as much enthusiasm in his unusual artists as in their teacher.

Heini Gugelmann explains first-hand the principles of learning in his animals: How cats and mice learn to know and respect each other, how ducks learn to slide on the ramp to imitate others and how he uses the pigs' rooting behavior to teach them how to to ring a bell - and all of this with a lot of love, patience and humor, because emotional affection is a cornerstone of a positive social relationship with animals as with humans.

Know friends or enemies

At the beginning of a life there is often getting to know each other: When a cow gives birth to her calf, she immediately turns around with deep, soft voices and smells and licks her little one. The calf hears the soft sounds, feels the rough tongue on the wet fur - and immediately feels good. In this way, the cow gets to know the personal scent of its calf, and the calf will memorize its silhouette, its size and its warmth, but also its smell. These sensory impressions guide him when he follows his mother every step of the way over the next few weeks and months.

Getting to know each other is the basis of every social relationship - positive as well as negative: It defines the relationship between mother and child or between cow and calf as well as that between potential prey animals and their predators, such as between deer and wolf. Learning as a prerequisite for attraction and avoidance, two basic elements of social behavior.

Learning on all channels

Different animals also use different senses for what and how they learn: ungulates or dogs mainly use smells and sounds - seeing is of secondary importance. In primates, on the other hand, the focus is often on sight, the smell is usually secondary. With birds, on the other hand, the voice is important: flamingos, for example, hear their young by the voice of thousands of young birds in order to feed them with a special milk from the crop.

All of these opportunities to get to know and recognize each other are adapted to the physique, the way of life and the habitat of the respective species: Learning uses many channels to receive information and also to send it out.

Not only monkeys mimic

In the case of social animals, it is also part of learning from others and letting others participate in the experiences they have acquired: by simply imitating what one has observed in others through to highly complex communication. For example when honey bees use dance figures to describe the location of a special source of food to the hive companions in their movement language.

Or when ravens discover a carcass and invite their swarmmates to dinner with certain calls. And conversely, learning to avoid dangers through communication: for example a young Jelada male who learns to take a threatening gesture from the pasha of the group seriously. Or the deer in the Alps, the alarm calls of the jays.

Flatworms do it without a brain

New research from the USA shows: Flatworms can store information they have learned not only in the brain, but also in the body. They were trained for a task and then their heads cut off. The freshwater worms regenerated their heads with a new brain - and mastered the task they had learned before: they apparently had learned information not only stored in the brain, but also elsewhere in the body. The neurobiologist Michael Levin from Tufts University in Boston hopes to be able to change the contents of memory in the brain one day. This could one day help people with dementia, but it also raises question marks: It would make it possible to manipulate the brain in a targeted manner.

To master life

Numerous people from behavioral research and psychology have carried out countless learning experiments with animals in the last few decades - and argued heartily about the results, the link will open in a new window. It is now clear that there are many elements in non-human and human behavior, some of which are learned and some of which are already contained in the genome of the species. In addition, there is a whole new dimension of so-called epi-genetics, in which the experiences of individuals are recorded and mapped so that they can be passed on to the next generation.

Learning processes in nature are an absolute prerequisite for individuals and communities to be able to master the most diverse challenges in life. And the cheerful Circus Maus with its extremely adaptable artists not only ensures good entertainment, but is also an exciting scientific lesson about different forms of learning.

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Humans only became Homo sapiens because they can do something: learn. Animals can learn too, but the human abilities to acquire new things are unsurpassed. But how do we learn best - and why? To the special

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