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Tradition and Imitation in Animals

Charles Darwin spent a summer morning in the 1850s watching bumble bees as they cut small holes in the calyces of flowers and fed on nec­ tar through the openings thus created. The next day Darwin observed large numbers of honey­ bees feeding at the holes that had been made by the bumble bees. He wrote in his journal, “I must think that the hive bees [honeybees] either saw the humble bees [bumble bees] cutting the holes and understood what they were doing and immediately profited by their labour; or that they . . . imitated the humble bees after they cut the holes and when sucking at them. ” (Darwin, in Romanes, 1884, p. 221). The question, im­ plicitly raised here by Darwin, was whether animals could imitate one another’s behavior, and it was destined to play a central role in the controversy between Alfred Russell Wallace and Darwin over whether human mind had evolved from animal mind by purely natural processes (Galef, 1988; Romanes, 1884).