Who is the smartest cage

Animals: Animal wise

Can dolphins come up with new tricks of their own? Do birds chirp to each other? Researchers use clever tests to find out how clever animals are. We introduce you to amazing insights

Mirror, mirror in the enclosure

If you have a budgie as a pet, you can hang a mirror in the cage. So the bird thinks that it is not alone, because it considers its reflection to be a fellow of its own. However, this is harmful for the bird, because it will keep trying to feed its supposed colleague. This impossible task can make him very sick.

Anyone who thinks that budgies are not particularly clever should be told that humans do not know from birth that they are in the mirror! You can test this by drawing a dot on a toddler's face unnoticed and then letting them look in the mirror.

An older child will soon see the stain and understand that it is on their own face. It will probably then remove the stain. But children who are younger than about two years don't do that yet. This is called the mirror test and can be used to test children's development.

But the mirror test cannot only be done with children. It is also a good way to find out whether animals are quite literally self-aware. That chimpanzees recognize themselves may not surprise anyone.

But even elephants are amazingly smart in this regard. And how do researchers do the mirror test with elephants? With a huge mirror, of course! Researchers in New York placed it in the zoo enclosure of three female elephants and waited a few days so that the animals could get used to their reflection in the mirror.

Then people painted a white cross on their foreheads. And indeed: after looking in the mirror, the elephants felt this mark on their own head with their trunks. So they understood that there was something unusual and that it was on their own foreheads.

Skimmed to learn

Pigs did not respond to such markings in a similar test. Or maybe just because they often have dirt stains on their bodies. But they could use the mirror for another trick. Scientists had set up a feeding trough behind a partition, so the pigs could not see the food directly.

But again there was a mirror in the pen. It was set up so that the pigs could use it to look around the corner at the place where the food bowl was. Some pigs looked for food behind the mirror. But others quickly learned that the mirror turned the image of the trough around the corner: they purposefully ran behind the partition, where the food reward was waiting for them. Who would have thought pigs are so smart?

Even dolphins can see themselves in the mirror. There are always stories that tell of the intelligence of these marine mammals. One of them goes like this: The zoologist Karen Pryor worked with two rough-toothed dolphins. She rewarded the two of them with a fish every time they showed a new behavior.

It took the animals a few days to understand this rule. By the way, as long as people if you don't explain the rules to them! But then the dolphins kept doing new tricks. So many until Karen Pryor had to stop the experiment because she lost track of it herself! Who knows how long the dolphins' creativity would have lasted ...

Sign language and chirping grammar

Many scientists consider great apes to be the smartest animals. That is why they have long tried to teach them to speak. People first had to understand that this couldn't work: The monkey's mouth is simply built differently, so, with the best of intentions, they cannot make the same sounds as we do. But then psychologists had a great idea: They taught the young chimpanzee Washoe sign language, which even deaf and mute people use to communicate with one another.

Roger Fouts is the name of the man who soon became a real friend for Washoe. He raised her the way a parent would raise a deaf child. And Washoe showed people that monkeys can really think. When she didn't yet know the word mark for "smell", she decided to use the mark for "flower" instead. When she saw a swan, she called it "water bird".

Wouldn't we be doing the same thing if we were learning a new language and no one had taught us the word for "swan"? When Washoe was asked what that was in the mirror, she replied, "Me, Washoe."

And then something else happened: Washoe had the chimpanzee Loulis as an adoptive son and taught him sign language. Soon the chimpanzees were talking to each other - with word signs that Loulis had never seen in a human.

Some parrots are ahead of monkeys in this regard: they can pronounce human words. But do they understand what they are saying? That is difficult to answer. The African gray parrot Alex is definitely a star.

His trainer shows him two wooden triangles, one blue and the other green, and asks: "What's the same, Alex?" Alex crows: "Form!" She then asks: "And what is the name of the material?" To which the parrot replies: "Wood!" So at least Alex seems to know what he's saying!

Most birds, however, cannot be taught human sounds or sign language. But their singing appears to us to be as diverse as our language. So maybe birds also have their own grammar? A few researchers asked themselves this and tested their assumption on finches.

The answer is always chirping when they hear an unknown song. So scientists played a new song to some finches until the animals stopped responding, showing that they knew the tune by now.

Then the researchers created three different versions of the recording, changing the order of the song parts. So three new pieces of music were created. The finches did not respond to two of the three. As if you already know the song!

Apparently the message of the song remained the same for the birds, just as "I'm going to fly home" and "I'm going to fly home" mean the same for us. But with one of the three new versions the finches chirped off again. Like a German teacher who rumbles on a grammatically incorrect sentence from his student!

Instinct or brains?

These experiments give us a glimpse into the minds of animals. One thing is clear: most animal species get by just fine by relying solely on their instincts. A chameleon, for example, is unlikely to think twice before adapting its color to that of the ground - it simply disguises itself instinctively. Sea turtles that hatch from their eggs on the beach know all by themselves that they have to crawl into the protective sea. Kittens are born blind, but still find their mother's teats straight away. Several million migratory birds fly south in autumn. There are numerous examples of such actions from a natural instinct and it is fascinating and beautiful to watch all of them. But now we also know of some abilities in animals that go far beyond the mere instinct. They show us that some people have a lot of brains.