We pride ourselves on our ability to fire up, use gadgets and subscribe to Netflix. But if other animals could meet this presumption, they would say that they are doing well, thank you.
A recent entrant in the pet sweepstakes is Goffin’s cockatoo. Birds in a laboratory in Vienna developed both a sharp stick and a straw to extract cash from a clear box. They used to ask for a stick to make a hole in the paper sticker set up by the experts, then a straw to beat the free cashew. When the scientists removed the paper barrier, some of the sharp-edged birds left the stick home, reports staff writer Erin Garcia de Jesús. Why tote around more tools than you need?
Wild cockatoos in Indonesia use three different sticks to break fruit pits. Other animals, including crows, also use tools, but they do not use more objects as a toolkit. This places cockatoos in a rarefied realm with chimpanzees as the only non-human animals known to use a killing tool.
Last year, Garcia de Jesús reported on another epic cockatoo art — unwary people trying to keep the birds from raiding trash cans (SN: 10/8/22 & 10/22/22, p. 10). Many people, myself included, have resorted to using a brick or bungee to avoid a night of scurrying by raccoons and opossums. The cockatoos of Sydney would laugh at such little effort. They could quickly push out the shaped brick. But they are frustrated, at least for now, when people fix water bottles or clubs on the back of their handlebars. Birds seem to learn just as humans devise new defenses.
And lest you think that a bird’s brain has the hair of an animal in pain, fish can recognize themselves in pictures or in a mirror. Researchers in Japan found that when they looked in the mirror, bluestreak graphs tried to erase the cleaner marks that the researchers had put on their bodies. The fish were also able to distinguish their faces in the images from other cleaner fish. Not all scientists are convinced that fish are conscious, but pool partisans say it’s time to give the aquatic vertebrates their due, reports contributor Betsy Mason.
Which makes sense, given that it can repel an aquarium. Researchers in Israel taught six ospreys how to propel a tank full of water to places around the room, we reported last year (SN: 2/12/22, p. 4). The fish were trained to direct the pink board from one side of the room and find it even when the researchers moved the board to the other wall.
We loved the story of the hippopotamus so much that we turned it into a comic Science News Explores, our magazine and website for younger readers. Of course, we weren’t the only ones who were delighted. A swimming fish comic, along with another about trash bin-running cockatiels and a third about pandas’ camouflage skills, won the top prize for science journalism for children at the 2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.
Thank you, beast, for continuing to amaze us as you chip away at our smug sense of superiority. Some animals also use computers, including non-human primates that are trained to touch screens. It’s just a matter of time before I write the editor’s notes.
See Science News ExploresComics about goldfish drivers at bit.ly/SNE_GoldfishComic