Animals Decide

September 4, 2020
RAISING THEIR VOICE Meerkats make a specific sound when they want their group to forage faster.
KRISTIAN BELL—GETTY IMAGES

This year, Americans will vote to decide who will be president. But humans aren’t the only creatures who vote. Other animals make group decisions. They just do it differently. And they do it for different reasons.

Instead of voting for a president, animals vote on where to live or when to hunt. For years, scientists have studied animals’ voting patterns. They have learned how these patterns affect collective decisions.

Meerkat Call

Scientists compare how people and animals make choices. Take meerkats, for example.

“Meerkats, like humans, negotiate about decisions,” Marta Manser told TIME for Kids. She’s an animal-behavior scientist at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland. She and other scientists studied meerkats in South Africa. They found that the animals foraged together. They did this for protection. But what if a meerkat wanted to speed up the search? The animal would make a “move call.” If three or more meerkats made this call, the group sped up.

Humans make decisions like this too. Manser says, “If you have a group of people, and one person says, ‘Let’s go for pizza,’ and no one agrees, then nothing is going to happen.” But, she says, if more people say they want pizza, then the whole group will probably go for it.

Bless You!

African wild dogs in Botswana vote too. A 2017 study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that after socializing, the pack decided whether to hunt. How did the dogs cast a vote to hunt? They sneezed! “Whether the dogs would actually go on a hunt was decided by the number of sneezes,” Andrew King says. King cowrote the study. The more sneezes, the more likely it was that the pack would hunt.

Animals don’t always agree with one another. But making group decisions helps ensure survival. “It is fascinating to see how animals reach a consensus,” King says.

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