Animal Behaviour

Neurophilosophy

Category archives for Animal Behaviour

Rooks can cooperate to solve problems

It now seems clear that we have grossly underestimated the cognitive abilities of other animals. In recent years, research has shown, for example, that African cichlids use simple logic to infer their social status, and that rodents can think abstractly and learn to use tools.  Birds also display quite remarkable intelligence: the ability of crows…

Rodents can learn to use tools

Traditionally, the use of tools was believed to be restricted to humans and several other primate species, and, like language, was argued to be a major driving force behind the evolution of the human brain. However, this view is now being challenged. For example, in recent years it has become clear that birds have sophisticated…

Sea cucumbers are marine invertebrates which live on the sea floor and feed on debris that drift down. When threatened, they can harden their skin within seconds, so that they are less likely to be devoured by the approaching predator. This behaviour is made possible by the structure of the sea cucumber’s skin, whose deeper…

Naughty Gloria

In this wonderful passage from King Solomon’s Ring, Konrad Lorenz, who, together with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch founded the science of ethology, describes some of the behaviours of his pet capuchin monkey Gloria: She occupied a large, roomy cage in my study. When I was at home and able to look after her,…

Film footage of group hunting in killer whales

The film clip below shows a pack of killer whales co-operating to catch a seal. First, they break up the ice floe on which their prey is standing, and push it out into open water. Then, they create large waves to knock the seal into the water. This kind of behaviour has been observed in…

Chimp beats humans at photographic memory task

Researchers from Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute report that a young chimp can out-perform university students on a working memory task. (Cognitive psychologists use the term working memory to refer to the temporary storage and manipulation of information.) The researchers developed a memory test called the limited-hold memory task in order to compare the working…

Do insects feel pain?

Using sophisticated techniques to silence or activate specific neurons, researchers from Stanford University have established that a simple behaviour used by fruit fly larvae to evade attack from parasitic wasps is triggered by a type of sensory neuron that is similar to the neurons which respond to painful stimuli in mammals.

The collective brain

An individual ant is quite insignificant, but a large group of ants can do quite remarkable things. Likewise, neurons evolved to communicate with each other, and are quite useless except when connected to a network of other neurons. I’ve always liked to use the ant colony as an anology for brain function. According to this…

Experimenting with a four-headed penis

A new paper about the reproductive behaviour of the spiny anteater, to be published in the December issue of American Naturalist, makes for fascinating – if slightly disturbing – reading. The spiny anteater (Tachyglossuss aculeatus) is a primitive mammal with an unusual four-headed penis. The animal is difficult to observe in the wild, and does…

Ants secrete aphid tranquilizer from their feet

Ants and aphids have a symbiotic (or mutually beneficial) relationship. The aphids provide the ants with a food-source – the sugar-rich honeydew they excrete when eating plants – and, in return, the ants protect the aphids from ladybirds and other insects that prey on them. To ensure a constant supply of honeydew, some ant species…