Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cameras on crows show animal technology use

Animals have often been observed using technology.

No, there thus far aren't any surface to air missiles carried by giraffes, so the high technology of war-making remains an entirely human province. Don't you still feel special?

But the fact remains that there are other animals that employ basic tools in their day to day living. This article at Discover considers crows:

"New Caledonian crows are some of the world’s most famous non-human tool users. The crows employ sticks, leaves, and even bits of wire in the lab to probe holes in branches or logs, fishing out tasty bugs. But scientists are usually stuck studying these behaviors in artificial environments. To get a better perspective on how these birds make and use tools in nature, researchers in the United Kingdom tried something new: they turned wild crows into documentary filmmakers."

The researchers captured 19 crows and attached tiny video cameras to the birds' bodies. The crows were then released back into the wild with the cameras switching on for a few minutes at a time to conserve battery power. Eventually the cameras would fall off the birds. RFID tags allowed the cameras to be found and their footage reviewed.

A total of eight different instances of tool use could be seen by four different crows on the footage. The birds used twigs to prod insects out of trees from underneath leaves. What was most intriguing was one crow fashioning rather complex tools, such as a hook. It trimmed down a twig and then stripped the bark down to a curved and pointed node. This is the first time such a phenomena has been observed in nature.

There are two ways to see these findings. One might be, "So what? Crows making fishing (insecting?) hooks. That's the best they can do?" Another would be to see this as reasoning at work. The animal, in this case a crow, is reasoning through what it needs and adapting its surroundings in accordance by building tools. Animals think. In fact, their inner thoughts might be more complex than we've ever previously imagined. Charles Darwin believed that humans and animals differed in intelligence only by degree, not kind. He came to this conclusion by observing moments of joy, grief, and love in birds, domestic dogs, primates, and even mice. While it's difficult to measure exactly, animals other than humans may indeed have rich inner thoughts and abilities to reason.

You may one day wish to welcome our new overlords. 

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