MEERKAT-LIKE animals called tayras have been spotted stashing unripe fruit to eat later. If confirmed, the intriguing observation could bolster suggestions that non-human animals can conceive of the future.
Fernando Soley, now at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and IsaÃas Alvarado-DÃaz of the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica monitored 36 plantain plants in forests and abandoned plantations in La Selva, Costa Rica. They classified the fruit according to their maturity: classes I to IV were green, starchy and inedible; class V fruit were ripe. Radio transmitters were fitted inside 22 class IV fruit, which are mature enough to ripen if removed from the tree.
All the ripe plantains were eaten. But tayras also took 52 class IV plantains.
Soley saw two tayras stash unripe plantains up trees. A few days later, he saw tayras go directly to those trees and pull out the fruit. He can’t be sure it was the same animals each time, but says that had another individual stumbled upon the fruit, you would expect to see it sniffing around. The ripened skins of three plantains with radio transmitters were also recovered hidden in trees or under grass, with the fruit recently consumed. Soley says that hiding the inedible fruit prevents other animals eating it. Plus, class IV fruit – the only class they cached – ripen faster when picked.
“I do think they’re caching the fruit for later,” says Anne Peters, a behavioural ecologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Even though the number of observations is small, the set of behaviours is “too distinct and well-defined” to be a coincidence, she says.