Crafty Crows Can Build Tools From Memory

iStock
iStock

Scientists have discovered yet another reason to never get on a crow's bad side. According to new research reported by Gizmodo, members of at least one crow species can build tools from memory, rather than just copying the behavior of other crows—adding to the long list of impressive skills that set these corvids apart.

For the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, an international team of scientists looked at New Caledonian crows, a species known for its tool usage. New Caledonian crows use sticks to pick grubs out of logs, sometimes stashing these twigs away for later. Tools are so important to their lifestyle that their beaks even evolved to hold them. But how exactly the crows know to use tools—that is, whether the behavior is just an imitation or knowledge passed down through generations—has remained unclear until now.

The researchers set up the experiment by teaching eight crows to drop pieces of paper into a box in exchange for food. The birds eventually learned that they would only be rewarded if they dispensed either large sheets of paper measuring 40-millimeters-by-60 millimeters or smaller sheets that were 15-millimeters-by-25 millimeters. After the crows had adapted and started using sheets of either size, all the paper was taken away from them and replaced with one sheet that was too big for the box.

The crows knew exactly what to do: They ripped up the sheet until it matched one of the two sizes they had used to earn their food before and inserted it into the dispenser. They were able to do this with out looking at the sheets they had used previously, which suggests they had access to a visual memory of the tools. This supports the "mental template matching" theory—a belief among some crow experts that New Caledonian crows can form a mental image of a tool just by watching another crow use it and later recreate the tool on their own, thus passing along the template to other birds including their own offspring.

This is the first time mental template matching has been observed in birds, but anyone familiar with crow intelligence shouldn't be surprised: They've also been known to read traffic lights, recognize faces, nurse grudges, and hold funerals for their dead.

[h/t Gizmodo]

How You Can Help Animals Affected by Hurricane Florence

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iStock

If you've ever considered rescuing a pet, now's the time to take the plunge: You could save an animal's life if you choose to adopt from a shelter in the path of Hurricane Florence.

With the Category 1 storm making landfall over the Carolinas this week, government officials have urged as many as 1.7 million residents to evacuate their homes. As a result, local animal shelters are scrambling to find homes for abandoned pets before the worst of the storm hits, and if they aren't able to place them in time, some animals will have to be euthanized.

That makes now the perfect time to adopt a pet if you're in the position to do so. Some shelters, like the Pender County Animal Shelter in Burgaw, North Carolina, have even waived their adoption fees in an effort to encourage more people to take pets home.

If you can't make a commitment to owning a pet at this time, fostering is also an option. Most shelters in the storm path will gladly place pets with someone who can give a dog or cat shelter until it's safe for them to return to the area. And if that's still not a possibility for you, you can help shelters by making a monetary donation. Transporting pets and making sure they're spayed, neutered, and vaccinated costs money, and shelters can use donations to help more pets get out the door and into safe homes.

The Charleston Animal Society, the Greenville Humane Society, the Humane Society of Charlotte, and the Pender County Animal Shelter are just a handful of animal shelters in need of assistance. You can also look at specific requests for support local shelters have made through this website.

Very Polite Canadian Belugas Have Made Friends With a Lone Narwhal

Baleines En Direct, YouTube
Baleines En Direct, YouTube

It’s hard to resist the cute factor of cross-species friendship. And so it’s with great joy that we report that Canada’s beluga whales appear to be just as polite as the rest of their countrymen when it comes to making friends with other species. One pod of belugas seems to have adopted a stray narwhal, according to the CBC.

The narwhal, captured in drone footage taken by researchers from the Canadian marine conservation nonprofit GREMM, has been spotted three years in a row swimming closely with a pod of young, mostly male beluga whales in the St. Lawrence estuary in Québec. The narwhal seems to exhibit beluga behaviors like blowing bubbles, and acts playful with the rest of the group. The same whale was spotted swimming with belugas in the area in 2016 and 2017, according to photo comparisons.

The sighting is notable because it took place more than 600 miles south of normal narwhal territory. The Arctic whales typically don’t venture farther south than Ungava Bay, located at the northern edge of Québec east of Hudson Bay.

In a post on GREMM’s site Whales Online, the researchers behind the footage speculate that climate change might make these sights more regular. The beluga and the narwhal both belong to the same cetacean family, Monodontidae, and as the waters in the Arctic warm, the two species’ territories might start to overlap more frequently. This could eventually lead to whale hybrids, even, similar to how shrinking sea ice has brought polar bears and grizzlies together more often, leading to interbreeding. This narwhal may have strayed far from his normal territory, losing track of his own kind before taking up with this band of friendly young whales.

[h/t CBC]

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