Eureka! Canny crows figure out water displacement to get noms

Rather than rewrite everything myself I will just reblog this post on a new study of crow intelligence that I found on WEIT. For what it’s worth, I believe there was a paper a year or two ago that found human children performed about the same in these tasks as crows did. I will have to go reread it before I can say for sure though.

Why Evolution Is True

In the Aesop fable “The Crow and the Pitcher,” a thirsty crow manages to get water out of a near-empty jar by dropping pebbles into it, raising the water level so he could reach it with his beak. The moral was “Little by little does the trick.”

That fable is a title reference in a new a new paper in PLoS ONE by Sarah Jelbert et al. (reference and free download below), showing that crows can not only displace water this way—in this case to get a treat, not a drink—but also understand some principles of water displacement: use heavy rather than floating “stones,” avoid hollow objects, use vessels where the water level is higher rather than lower, and—it doesn’t work with sand.

The authors used six wild New Caledonian Crows (Corvus moneduloides), a species already known for its smarts and its ability to use tools (see…

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Quicklinks: Borders, dolphins and spying

Garry Davis, a man who renounced his American citizenship and declared himself a citizen of the world died on the 24th of July. His “citizen of the world” idea is quite appealing and it’s interesting how it hasn’t caught on. I see little value in patriotism and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between passports and the pass laws of Apartheid South Africa. The pass laws were based on race but if they were instead based on where one was born, how would they really differ? I think any differences must be minor.

There is a post on WEIT dealing with India’s ban on captive dolphins and public opinion of the issue in Spain and Italy. I also saw a story where an American aquarium was recently denied permission to import Beluga dolphins. Related to both incidents, new research shows that dolphin memories can last at least 20 years! (covered in ScienceNow and Nature News)

Lastly, Edward Snowden has been granted one year’s asylum in Russia. This is excellent news for him considering Bradley Manning is facing up to 90 years in jail. Hopefully these cases, particularly Snowden’s, will send a message that large-scale monitoring and cover-ups of military actions are not acceptable. In the time, here are a number of ways to minimise data surveillance and generally increase your online security.

What do studies of animal cognition mean for ethics?

One of the most-viewed posts that I’ve written was about animal intelligence. I still maintain that the current mainstream view of animals is outdated and needs to recognise that non-human animals are, while not as intelligent as us, more intelligent than usually given credit for and, as fellow sentient creatures, deserving of moral protection. Currently, there is more and more scientific evidence being produced that supports intelligence in a wide range of species. I imagine resistance to these findings comes from a few sources such as many religions making an explicit separation between humans and animals (one which is not supported by biology), a lack of knowledge of studies of animal intelligence and a reluctance to acknowledge these findings as that would necessitate a complete overhaul of how we live our lives. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Animal intelligence, abuse and some cool posts

To keep to on a topic I’ve put a bit of effort into documenting I have a short press release about a metacognition in chimps.

This pattern of behavior reflects a controlled information-seeking capacity that serves to support intelligent responding, and it strongly suggests that our closest living relative has metacognitive abilities closely related to those of humans.

This is also important when considering the next two links, about bills in the US designed to prevent documenting of animal abuse. There is an attempt to disrupt animal rights activists by making it a crime to infiltrate farming facilities and record abuse of animals. This isn’t about them doing anything disruptive, merely to stop them building a case and reporting abuse to authorities. This deliberately prevents people from knowing what is going on in the industry and there are fears similar laws could spread around the world.

Then to buoy your spirit you can see these two cool stories. One about bees moving each other with electrical fields (and there’s a link to more about bees and electricity inside) and one about the historical value of island weapons. If you don’t want the history then let me say it’s also a chance to see swords made from shark teeth!

Quick link: Brains of the animal kingdom

I’ve been a bit busy lately and I went away with some of my family for the weekend (long weekend here) so I’m just going to link a quick piece by Frans de Waal entitled The Brains of the Animal Kingdom. It’s similar to my pieces on animal intelligence and very much worth reading. Aside from the lesson that animals are more intelligent than many people suspected it is important to note that you have to test them in an appropriate manner. They are not like humans so a human test won’t give a good result, just like we would do very badly at some tasks animals complete. There are good examples on that with both elephants and chimpanzees.

Dolphins help their dying friend

After the video showing a dolphin going to divers for help I was glad to hear about a similar story from the BBC, a group of dolphins helping one of their own. This is special for a number of reasons. Dolphins have been recorded helping other dolphins but usually it was only one or two dolphins, this incident involved a number of individuals. Also this was observed and recorded by scientists who had been surveying cetaceans (cetaceans are marine mammals) in the area. The incident happened off the coast of Korea in 2008 but was only recently published in a scientific journal. I’m not sure why the delay but it is rather convenient for me. The paper is here but access is restricted. Continue reading

Hawaiian dolphin rescue

There is an amazing video that was released earlier this month showing some divers helping a dolphin who became entangled by a fishing line. The hook was embedded in it’s fine with the line caught on it’s mouth and fin, restricting it’s movements. Happily the divers were able to help the dolphin and, despite the caption in the clip, the hook and line were all removed. It’s heart-warming, although we shouldn’t forget that it was because of people that it got tangled in the first place, but it also begs the question whether the dolphin co-operated inadvertently or whether it deliberately went to the divers for help.

Continue reading