21 Aug 2020

Scientists discover a social cue of safety

Are you in danger? Looking at how others behave is one of the ways social animals, such as humans, find the answer. Even though the existence of social cues of danger is well known, no social cues of safety have been identified until just now.

Scientists discover a social cue of safety

From schools of fish, to herds of antelope and even human societies, one of the group’s many advantages is its inherent safety. Surrounded by their peers, individuals can lower their vigilance and calmly engage in other activities, such as foraging, or watching youtube videos.

Fruit flies
Image: Clara Ferreira

But the Safety in Numbers rule has more to it than just being together. In many cases, communication also plays a big role. Social cues of danger are fairly well known. Just think about the different ways animals use to convey the presence of a threat. Shrieks, yelps and barks immediately come to mind.

Now, how about naming a few examples of social cues of safety? After all, knowing that the danger has passed is important for lowering one’s defences and resuming other activities. The reason this task is more challenging is because it’s actually a trick question – no social safety cues have been identified until now.

Remarkably, the discovery of the first social safety cue was made thanks to a tiny insect: the fruit fly. These results, published today (August 21st 2020) in the scientific journal Nature Communications, mark a new phase in our understanding of how social communication works.

Read the full story here