Crows are well known for their intelligence. In fact, the entire Corvidae family is renowned for being the smartest of all birds and some of the smartest of all animals. The secret to their superior intellect has been located in their brain for the first time, according to a new study from Lena Veit and Andreas Nieder from the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen. The paper was published in Nature Communications.
Corvids like crows and ravens have been known for their intelligence long before much research was given to the subject. In addition to being one of the few animals capable of using tools to find food and solve problems, they have complex social structures. Information is shared within the murder so that group decisions can be made. They have incredible memories which allow them to recognize human faces. This is bad news for the people that aren’t well liked by the birds, because word can spread and the crows will dive and attack faces.
Unfortunately, because bird brains are so different from mammalian brains, not a lot has been known about how decisions are made and where avian intelligence actually comes from. For the study, the crows were trained to perform a series computerized memory tests. An image would flash on the screen and then disappear. Next, two more images would appear. One was the same as the first while the other was different. Some portions of the test required the crows to find a match with the first image and other sections wanted the image that was different. After a brief training period the crows were able to do the test effortlessly, even when unfamiliar images were used.
While the crows were busy selecting images, researchers were mapping the birds’ neurological function. They discovered that there was a great deal of activity in the nidopallium caudolaterale, which is somewhat analogous to the human prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain where higher-thinking occurs and executive decisions are made. The researchers also noticed activity in different areas based on if the crow was supposed to pick the item that was the same while a different area was used when the selected image was supposed to be different. After a while, the researchers could use the bird’s brain activity and see what it was going to select before the bird had a chance to submit its choice.
Because bird brains are so different from mammalian brains, there aren’t a lot of shared structures from before the divergence over 300 million years ago. Even though the structure isn’t the same, there are a lot of similarities in the decision-making cells. The researchers speculate that the intelligence seen in mammals (primates, specifically) and that found in birds could very well be a product of convergent evolution.
Dogs communicate a lot through their tails. But a new study from Italy shows that canines also recognize and respond to wagging in surprising ways, including whether the wagging happens on the left side or right side of a fellow dog.
Earlier, the same research team discovered that dogs wag to the right when they’re happy, like seeing their owners, and to the left when they’re feeling stressed or anxious (like seeing a dog they’re hesitant about). Their prior study showed that left-brain activation produced a wag to the right, while right-brain activation produced a wag to the left — a consequence of left/right asymmetric functionality in the brain. Which wasn’t a complete surprise to the researchers;asymmetries in behavior are widespread in the animal kingdom.
By the observations got the researchers thinking: Are dogs on the receiving end of tail wagging able to decipher and respond to these cues? They performed an experiment to find out.
While closely monitoring their reactions, the researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs with either left- or right- asymmetric tail wagging. They observed that, when dogs saw another dog wagging to the left, their heart rates picked up and they looked anxious. But when the wagging happened on the other side, they stayed perfectly relaxed.