Humans (especially children...) seem to dislike certain foods or drinks, that other humans seem to like. Common examples are coffee, french cheeses, olives, milk, fish and cabbage. Are there examples of animals either wild or in captivity that show the same behaviour? For example a group of primates that eat something except one or two members of the group? And if so, any clues to the evolutionary aspects of such preferences?

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    $\begingroup$ Certainly. Just for an example, one of my dogs likes carrots and apples, the other won't touch them. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 27, 2016 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ In captivity this seems to be observed quite often - almost every pet holder (at least the ones that live with at least two pets of the same species) will confirm this. In my cats, for example, this also is not restricted to taste but also includes smell. Generalising this to wild living animals and an evolutionary perspective is really interesting. Good question! $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2016 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


Yes. Intra-species variation in food preferences has been observed in

I am sure most pet owners will find the existence of this variation quite intuitive. No too cats have the same food preferences.

Why such variation exist?

I can think of several possible (non-exclusive and non-exhaustive) reasons for why such variation exist?

  • Individuals compete. If preferences vary, it allow specialisation (inspired from @John's comment)
  • Phenotypic variance (whether genetic, environmental or other) is not necessarily maintained by some kind of balancing selection. You may observe purely neutral variation in preferences.
  • Genetic variance can explain variance in food needs and therefore it is good that preference can be plastic
  • Same as above but for environmental reason. Say, an individual may have different need based on its environment.
  • One must learn to recognize good food. There might be a tradition among family of liking specific types of food.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the links, fascinating (+1). Do you have any ideas about the evolutionary aspects? $\endgroup$
    – RHA
    Aug 1, 2017 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ if your taste varies a little bit from your main competitor (others of your species) you are likely to find food they have overlooked, several variations on taste is more evolutionarily stable than just one species wide preference. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 1, 2017 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ @RHA see edit in my answer $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Aug 1, 2017 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, as your answer is the best of all given, I am inclined to accept it ;-) $\endgroup$
    – RHA
    Aug 1, 2017 at 15:15

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