African wild dogs are professional hunters, who take all pack members serious before going on a rampage. It seems they have a truly interesting system of taking decisions in a group. Each one of the specimens in the pack casts its vote on when they should start chasing their prey. These votes consist of sneezes, so the majority always has the final word.
Neil Jordan, one of the scientists involved in this interesting study, was studying African wild dogs in Botswana. Then, he noticed he could find out when the pack would leave for an attack just by counting the sneezes of the members. However, this idea sounded pretty crazy, and most of his colleagues didn’t take it seriously.
In the end, they decided to give this hypothesis a chance, and they went out to count the sneezes of the African wild dogs. After they did this, they observed the group closely and monitored the moment when they would start an attack. The bigger the number of sneezes was, the higher were the chances of the pack to depart. Therefore, they discovered sneezing was, indeed, a voting system.
Quorums are pretty common in nature, but the system of the African wild dogs is quite unique
This phenomenon is called a quorum, and it’s actually pretty common among animals. Ants or bees use this system to choose a place for nesting. Even unicellular organisms, such as bacteria, use quorums to decide upon the expression of their genes. However, using quorums to cast votes regarding group decisions has never been seen before.
This system is quite democratic, meaning that pack members always count the sneezes. However, if one specimen with a high rank in the pack decides it’s time to go hunting, the entire group will leave even if more individuals voted against.
Researchers couldn’t tell if African wild dogs sneezed consciously. There are two options. The sneeze could either be issued without the dogs being aware of it, when they are ready to set off hunting. Another alternative would be for it to have a specific communication purpose. However, researchers need to delve more into the problem, and conduct more investigations. All the current findings have been collected in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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