What’s Worth Knowing About Animal Intelligence

Until somewhat recently, animals were deemed to be unthinking creatures, while humans were the only truly intelligent species. But supported by new experiments that allow animals to prove their smarts without the restraints of human assumption, scientists have discovered that there may be more similarities between human and animal intelligence than there are differences.

Brainy Bees

As humans, we sure do admire bee efficiency, but generally, we assume they are just tiny, well-programmed robots. Researchers are now uncovering a range of cognitive skills that were previously believed to only belong to larger animals. At the Queen Mary University of London, in the Bee Sensory and Behavioural Ecology Lab, researchers found that bees count in simplistic ways and can even recognize faces. More recently, the lab has found that bees can be trained to differentiate between colors more accurately than was previously thought. The lab is also studying how bees learn from each other. The lab is testing this social learning by observing how inexperienced bees learn the quickest routes to flower patches by mimicking the more seasoned foragers.

 

Crafty Crows

Ravens, it seems, never forget a face. In the wild, crows co-exist in groups until they select mates, then each pair veers off into a solitary, conjugal life. In this research study, researchers simulated these social arrangements and kept the pairs in separate aviaries. But the ravens still remembered their peers from group life and recognized their recorded calls, as they had different reactions to birds that they knew before than to ones they did not.

Clever Chimps

Since the turn of the 20th century, scientists have known that chimps are capable planners— for instance, they’ll stack boxes to reach a dangling bunch of bananas. In 2015, researchers at Harvard researchers decided to see whether the primates could handle something considered to be exclusively human: cooking. Cooking requires several cognitive abilities, including self-discipline, reasoning, as well as preparation. At the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of the Congo, researchers offered chimpanzees a choice: They could place raw slices of food in a device that would return it to them uncooked, or in another that would give them cooked pieces. The team didn’t give the chimps the option to do real cooking out of concern that they might burn themselves. The chimps preferred the cooked food and even moved raw slices from the other device over to the “oven,” showing that they had some of the necessary cognitive skills for cooking.