May 26, 2018

Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and bartering

15 July 2017, 08:23 | Kevin Scott

Raven at Yellowstone National Park | Yellowstone National Park Flickr

Raven at Yellowstone National Park |         Yellowstone National Park  Flickr

All the results are present in a study in the journal Nature.

How'd they get so smart?

The new findings show that planning for future events may have evolved in these birds after they and mammals shared a common ancestor over 300 million years ago. This is considered to be the first ever study to be created 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. Their lives are a flow of action and reaction, making it hard, if not impossible, to think complex scenarios through. Then, they performed the same tests of great apes.

Some corvids, a family of birds that includes ravens, cache food, which is an ability to plan beyond the current moment.

Cognitive scientists from Lund University, Sweden, spent hours watching the corvids to determine that they are able to think ahead to future scenarios. In order for the ravens to receive their promised reward, they needed to stash their chosen token away to use later.

Therefore, it seems that evolution taught ravens to make plans. Fifteen minutes later, the box would show up again.

Juno the raven working the puzzle box. Almost every raven chose the correct, apparatus-opening tool; upon being presented with the box 15 minutes later, they used the tool to open it, with a success rate of 86 percent. In addition, the ravens have their own language - they don't just give signals of danger, as do most birds, but also able to communicate with each other. In the first test the bird, after picking the tool, had to wait 15 minutes to access the tube to drop the object down and get the treat.

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Taking the exercise further, the researchers extended the waiting time to 17 hours.

In a corollary to both of these tests, the ravens also showed the ability to select a token which they could later use to barter for a reward, which they did with 78 per cent proficiency.

The ravens were as good with tools as apes, and in some ways better at bartering, outperforming orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees, according to the study.

And an average of 11 out of 14 times - just less than 80% of the time - the ravens chose the tool rather than one of the distractions. The Raven brain is one of the largest among birds.

The ravens also exercised self-control by avoiding lesser rewards in order to receive better future rewards.

Researchers find that common ravens have the capability to plan ahead of time, much like apes and human children.

"This paper is significant because it shows that ravens can indeed plan into the near future (i.e. overnight) based on behavioural principles, and not based on simple trial-and-error learning", said Andreas Nieder, a neuroscientist at the University of Tuebingen who wasn't involved in the study, in an interview with Gizmodo. It has been argued that planning in foraging and natural tasks is not the same as planning in a more general way. But, he says, "We don't know if they are social like that because they're clever, or the other way around".

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