Genetically programmed, but with options

I have a guest post at NeuWriteSD:

Australia has been having a problem with discarded beer bottles. It turns out that the Australian Jewel Beetle finds these bottles so attractive that they will mate with them until they die from dehydration. The bottles, so fine with their seductive golden shading and arousingly dimpled bottoms, are the ultimate beetle aphrodisiac. So gorgeous are these bottles that the Jewel Beetles have been known to continue mating even while being eaten alive by ants. Unfortunately for them, they have been genetically adapted to a different environment than the one they currently find themselves in, and their genetic programming has been hijacked. What they once found so deeply enticing about their fellow beetles, they now find in empty beer bottles instead.

Much of our behavior – not just insect behavior but our behavior – is driven by our ‘genetic programming’. Take a look at the list of things that are ‘cultural universals’. Language, color, family and friend groups, toys, weapons, play, song, dance. These are all things that we do no matter who we are. These are some of the things it means to be genetically human.

Somehow, most of my links disappeared, though! The most important are of the Australian Jewel Beetle mating with the beer bottle:

They are not the only species to be in an ‘evolutionary trap’; this happens in nature all the time:

Australian wasps have long been known to fall prey to a native orchid’s seductive ways.

“Orchids are really famous for their wide variety of evolutionary traps,” says Dr Anne Gaskett, a biologist at The University of Auckland, in New Zealand. “They have a diverse range of ways of fooling insects into acting as pollinators without having to give them a reward.”

Australian tongue orchids (Cryptostylis), for example, have evolved to mimic the scents and appearance of female wasps (Lissopimpla excelsa), in order to trick male wasps into spreading their pollen.

And here is the list of cultural universals. Remember that even though these are things that are seen in every culture, they need not be biological! There is tons of cultural transmission, even to so-called ‘uncontacted tribes’.


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