Can non-genetic qualities evolve?

My girlfriend and I were discussing squirrels and started to talk that perhaps eventually a race of super-squirrels would exist that are smart enough to not get hit by cars by ensuring there are no oncoming cars before crossing the street. Now, such a trait wouldn’t be the result of a genetic deformation but rather a learned skill (to look both ways before crossing the street). Can such a trait “evolve,” that is, be passed down genetically?

It seems to me it would have to be taught from one squirrel to another, rather than naturally evolve, and since I don’t think squirrels are big on teaching their kids how to survive, it seems unlikely that this would ever happen. Can mental concepts such as this be applicable to evolution? On a related note, is this question similar to the concept of “natural instincts”?

Intelligence can certainly evolve. How about that all the squirrels who have a fear of cars survive, and all the ones who dart across the road get squished. Learned behavior per se wouldn’t be passed down, but a propensity towards survival would be genetically inherited.

No. Only genetic information can be passed down genetically. Learned behaviors have to be learned over and over again.

Why couldn’t the ability to identify oncoming cars evolve genetically? It would take a long time, of course, but assuming there were still cars 10,000 years from now, I don’t see why not. After all, animals have already evolved the ability to instinctively identify “lion charging at me,” stinky humans in the area" and “oh, look, there’s water.” Cars are just one more environmental factor.

Lamarck, is that you?

Why? There could easily be a genetically controlled behavior pattern in squirrels which makes them tend to avoid getting hit by cars.

It’s probably already true that the squirrels who had poorer reflexes and less alert danger detection got preferentially run over by automobiles, leaving those with better reflexes and a better sense of the danger on fast-moving approaching objects to reproduce and increase the percentage of those genes in the squirrel population.

That’s exactly Darwinism and exactly genetic and exactly how evolution would be expected to take place. No need to bring up learned responses or cultural transmission of them.

In response to the question posed in the thread title, if not the actual OP, yes; see epigenetics.

Anything humans can do can be produced by evolution.

Please don’t ask me to prove it.