The latest Planet of the Apes film is in theaters — and, as a fan of the series, I can’t wait to see it. But it’s not primate intelligence that’s in the news this week. It’s corvid intelligence.
A study published in this month’s edition of the journal Science reveals that ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and bartering. From the abstract:
Here, we show that ravens plan for events unrelated to caching—tool-use and bartering — with delays of up to 17 hours, exert self-control, and consider temporal distance to future events. Their performance parallels that seen in apes and suggests that planning evolved independently in corvids, which opens new avenues for the study of cognitive evolution.
A writer for Motherboard spoke with one of the researchers by phone. Turns out one of the ravens was so smart, he “hacked” the experiment and had to be removed from the study:
One raven in the experiment figured out how to work their rock/box contraption first, then began teaching the method to other ravens, and finally invented its own way of doing it. Instead of dropping a rock to release a treat, the future Ruler of the Raven Kingdom constructed a layer of twigs in the tube, and pushed another stick down through the layer to force it open. The bird had to be removed from the experiment before it could teach any other birds how to do it.
Here’s a completely unrelated video that shows a raven figuring out a puzzle in real-time while on live TV:
And I still stand by my belief that the crows in my neighborhood deliberately herd squirrels into oncoming traffic. After the squirrels are struck and killed, the crows pick at their carcass. I know it sounds gross, but I’ve seen too many instances of this behavior to believe it’s coincidence.