Animal Intelligence Studies Find Brilliant Minds

Research into animal intelligence is still in its early stages, but has already found that animals have amazing problem solving abilities comparable with a young human. Unfortunately, wolves and dogs didn’t make it into the most intelligent animals, but some cute Nepalese mountain pups did make it onto Marc Latham’s travel25years blog.

Nepal 055

Inside the Animal Mind

Hi, it’s Chris Packwolf, natural world correspondent in the Greenygrey world. I’m delighted to announce that my human parallel Chris Packham presented a fascinating second episode of Inside the Animal Mind. It premiered last night, and is now available on BBCiplayer (just in U.K. I think, so there is a detailed description of the main points below).

I’m even more delighted to announce that greenygrey again made it onto the programme’s cover shot, although it took a more background role this time:

Animal Problem Solving Skills

Chris Packham presented amazing footage of animals such as corvids (crow family), parrots and great apes using tools. These animal skills were only discovered in the last fifty years.

The animals have been doing it much longer, it’s just that humanity is only now able to study it.

Animal Intelligence Studies

Although filmed footage of animals using tools has been around for a few decades now, studies into their thought processes and the limits of their skills are still in their early stages and ongoing.

In last night’s documentary, Chris Packham said and showed how the most recent studies have revealed that the most intelligent animals have four brain attributes and skills that were thought to be exclusive to humans half a century ago.

Animal Problem-Solving Skills

Studies giving animals and birds quite intricate problems to solve to reach food, showed:

  1. They understand cause and effect: that filling a bottle with water will make the food inside fall out.
  2. They have flexible thinking: a bird who’d used stones to reach food in one type of study used them differently in another.animal mindsOne bird was shown solving an eight-part test to reach food: using a small stick to release three stones, which when placed in a container released a longer stick, which could reach the food.The greenygrey again stayed in the background, but this time played a different, more natural, role.

    Another bird understood that putting stones into a jar filled with water would make the water rise, and that would bring a grub into its reach. The scientist said they didn’t do it if there was no water in the jar, so they understood it only worked by raising the water level; that if there was no water, the stones would just bury the grub.

  3. They use imagination: looking at a problem, imagining how procedures work and then putting them into practise. A cockatoo was shown solving an intricate problem it’d never seen before: in a different way to how it had done it previously. This showed that it had identified difference, and thought up a new solution rather than acting on instinct.
  4. They can mentally time-travel: tests showed that western scrub jays could plan ahead. This was shown in a Big Brother style task with one jay given breakfast in its cage for a week, and another not given breakfast. The latter jay stored five times as much food as the one who expected breakfast, showing that it was thinking in the past and future as well as the present; and as it was a new situation it wasn’t just acting on instinct.

Perhaps acting on instinct, corvids of course starred in the Merrymook Rowdy Rook classic episodes of the Werewolf of Oz: Fantasy Travel by Google Maps, and a jay called Jay joined Grey for the last adventure of the book.

Perhaps using flexible thinking, the greenygrey did also star in this herding animals image in the documentary:

animal minds2

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