Behaviour that has been passed from one generation to another by non-genetic means. Evolution occurs primarily as a result of natural selection, and genetic inheritance of acquired characteristics is not possible. However, information can be passed from parent to offspring through the processes of imprinting and imitation.
Sensitive periods of learning occur in the early life of many animals, and during such periods they often learn from their parents. Some songbirds remember the parental song, provided they hear it during the sensitive period (about ten to fifty days old), and are able to sing it in later life. The tendency to copy the parental song leads to regional variation. Populations separated by only a few miles may have different dialects. Animal dialects represent an elementary form of tradition. Other forms of traditional behaviour include migration routes and feeding habits.
Imitation provides another mechanism for cultural exchange in animals. Animals may copy each other as a result of simple social facilitation, learning by observation, or true imitation. Whether the last of these indicates intelligent behaviour is a matter of controversy.
Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.