Which is smarter, a parrot or a corvid?
Actually, that’s a trick question.
As this excellent article in Discover Magazine points out, you can’t boil animal “intelligence” down to a simple measure of how an animal performs on an arbitrary, human-designed test.
Animal intelligence isn’t a single thing. There is no standard IQ test for them to sit, and no universal checklist of skills to score them against. Instead, animals have evolved mental abilities to cope with different lifestyles and environments. Many early studies into animal intelligence simply looked at whether animals could or couldn’t perform specific tasks. But it’s far more interesting to see why and how they do different things, and how their own particular brand of intelligence has evolved.
In nature, only a few animals have been observed to use tools, likely because their “natural” lives don’t really require it. But last week, one more animal joins the ranks of “tool user”: Kandula the Elephant uses a stool to solve a puzzle. (But how often do elephants in the wild need to reach treats suspended in trees while simultaneously having access to out-of-sight stools?) The interesting thing in this development isn’t really the use of tools, but the planning undertaken by the pachyderm.
What are some surprising actions you’ve witnessed from an animal that you thought showed “intelligence”? What kind of problem-solving chops do your pets demonstrate? What’s the most amazing feat of animal intelligence you’ve ever heard about?