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Ravens plan for the future, showing they're even smarter than we thought

17 Julio 2017

In 2006, researchers showed that ravens could plan ahead-to hide food in a specific area the night prior, and access it the next morning for breakfast. Most of the ravens chose the correct tool to open the box, which was again taken away and returned 15 minutes later. An hour after researchers removed the tool and the box, they presented the ravens with the tool on a tray alongside a series of nonfunctional "distractor" objects and a smaller food reward. This is considered to be the first ever study to be designed to find out if any other animal can plan events that are going to be happening in the future as this can be immensely helpful in discovering how different species evolve to share the same intelligence brand. "That ravens show similar functions, and combine them in ways similar to apes, despite a last common ancestor as far back as 320 million years ago, suggests that evolution likes to re-run good productions".

But today we know that corvids, a group of about 120 bird species that includes ravens, crows, and jackdaws, possess these abilities, no neocortex required.

He says this kind of complex cognition may have developed in reaction to ravens' complex social hierarchy.

"[The researchers] show that the animals are capable to control an immediate feeding impulse by offering them a choice between a tool/token or an immediate/lower quality food reward than the one they could potentially gain by saving the token/tool", Auersperg told Gizmodo. And they prepared for future bartering, too.

Ravens, crows and their relatives are incredibly smart. Similar studies were done on great apes. The birds successfully selected the tool and used it to open the box 86 percent of the time, excluding one particularly resourceful female who figured out a way to open the box all by herself, with no tool. Scientists from Sweden's Lund University found that ravens appear to have the ability to plan for the future.

"To be able to solve tasks like these, one needs a collection of cognitive abilities working in concert, such as inhibitory skills and different forms of memory".

Further work showed the ravens would pass up an immediate reward if they could get a better one by waiting a while. One hour later, the ravens were given the stone, as well as several "distractors" such as a wooden wheel, a wooden ball, a metal pipe and a toy car. "Solving problems even if they are not related to the usual daily business is a clear sign of mental flexibility and therefore intelligence".

"Being able to wait and think things over before acting is at the core of intelligence and probably explains why corvids are so smart", said Nieder.

If humans, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans can all do something, but monkeys can't, that tells a certain evolutionary story: it suggests that the ability emerged sometime after the apes split off from the monkeys on our evolutionary tree.

Taylor says this is the key control - divorcing the token from food association - that's missing from the study. Previous studies have shown that, pound for pound, birds pack more neurons into their tiny brains than mammals, including primates.

Elephant brains are the biggest among land animals, with their cortex regions having as many neurons as the human brain.

Ravens plan for the future, showing they're even smarter than we thought