Animal Intelligence: Kea vs. Crows — Which is Smarter?

August 22, 2011

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?


One comment

  1. Exactly!! Honestly, speaking just in parrot terms, I do not really think African Greys are any smarter than budgies. There are certain skills they do seem to perform better than budgies, but I am sure budgies have skills Greys do not. The skills that Alex displayed would be very useful to all birds, and there is certainly evidence they use similar skills in finding food, etc. And looking at the larger picture, all animals seem to have surprising intelligence in their own way. It all depends on what they need., as you said. I think it is easy to get caught up in certain aspects of intelligence, when it is really a very complicated and complex thing. Cuttlefish are extremely intelligent, and can outperform humans at certain thing, but certainly not at many others! So how do you rate how intelligent they are on a scale? Give each skill a points value?

    I am not sure about most amazing feat of intelligence, but as a border collie lover, I think Chase, who can recognize over 1,00 toys by name, and can pick new ones out if you ask for one he has never seen, is pretty awesome!

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