Bonobos Share

Brian Hare, Duke University

While humans are often regarded to belong to the only species that will voluntarily share resources, bonobos (Pan paniscus) will allow even an unrelated conspecific to share food without the would-be recipient harassing the donor for access. This video compilation documents a study performed by Brian Hare and Suzy Kwetuenda, which revealed that bonobos would spontaneously release a conspecific from behind a barrier to share food rather than monopolizing it for themselves.

FURTHER READING: B. Hare & S. Kwetuenda, Bonobos voluntarily share their own food with others, Current Biology 20 (2010), pp. R230–R231.

Brown-Headed Cowbird Spatial Memory

Mélanie Guigueno

Brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are brood parasites. Females search for nests of other birds, in which they lay their eggs, and rely on foster parents to raise their young. Because female cowbirds search for host nests and males do not, researchers wondered whether females might have better spatial memory than males.  Here a male cowbird pecks a touch screen for a food reward. To obtain food, the bird must peck the square that is in the same location as the sample it just saw.  Each trial starts with a colored circle the bird pecks to see the sample, followed by another colored circle the bird pecks to see the memory test. After a correct choice, food is presented through a small hole in the floor, but after an error the lights briefly go out. Research of this kind aims to discover how selection affects memory, cognition, and the brain, and builds upon the classic work of David Sherry and his collaborators on the role played by the hippocampus in spatial memory.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2013), Chap. 3, “Hormones and Neurobiology.” D. F. Sherry, Neuroecology, Annual Review of Psychology 57 (2006), pp. 167–97.

Eurasian Jay Tool Use

Lucy Cheke and Nicola Clayton

In this clip, a two-year-old Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) selectively places pieces of rubber, rather than the less dense foam pieces available, into a cylinder, raising the water level and thus obtaining access to a wax worm. This paradigm has been used successfully to demonstrate that causal cues (i.e., rising water level with insertion of dense objects) promote the acquisition of a new solution to challenges Eurasian jays face in the context of foraging in a lab setting.

FURTHER READING: L. G. Cheke, C. D. Bird, & N. S. Clayton, Tool-use and instrumental learning in the Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius), Animal Cognition 14 (2011), pp. 441–55.

Hamster Recognition Assay

Frank R. Castelli, Marcela Fernández-Vargas; R.E. Johnston Lab, Cornell University

In this clip, we see golden hamsters interacting, with the male showing olfactory investigation of the female's oral angle, vaginal area, and flank before attempting to mount the female. In the next segment the investigator rubs the female's flank gland region over a glass slide, which the male in the subsequent section of the clip then investigates. Employing these methods in carefully designed studies, Robert Johnston and his collaborators have shown that golden hamsters form integrated multi-factorial representations of individuals as unique entities.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York:  Norton, 2013), Chap. 13, “Communication.” R. E. Johnston & P. Jernigan, Golden hamsters recognize individuals, not just individual scents, Animal Behaviour 48 (1994), pp. 129–36.

Koko Responds to a Sad Movie

The Gorilla Foundation

Work with language-trained primates has provided exceptional insight into animals’ cognitive abilities and their capacity to experience emotion. Here, we see Koko, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) trained in a variant of American Sign Language (ASL) called Gorilla Sign Language (GSL), watching a 1999 movie entitled Tea with Mussolini that she has seen several times before. When the movie comes to a sad part, where the boy has to say goodbye to all of his relatives and waves goodbye on the train, Koko turns away from the TV. She then proceeds to sign: "Frown, sad, cry, bad, trouble, mother, and Koko-love."  Her eyes also become watery.  Dr. Penny Patterson, Koko’s mentor, tries to console her, but Koko’s emotional reaction is difficult to interpret as anything other than empathy.

FURTHER READING: F. G. P. Patterson & R. H. Cohn, Self-recognition and self-awareness in lowland gorillas, in S. T. Parker, R. W. Mitchell & M. L. Boccia (Eds.), Self-awareness in Animals and Humans (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Alex the Parrot Identifies Objects

The Alex Foundation

Work with Alex and other African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) has revealed the ability of these birds to employ language in a manner extending well beyond mimicry of human speech, thereby providing evidence of their advanced cognitive abilities, including the ability to form abstract concepts, identify objects, and perform arithmetic operations. Here we see two short video clips of Alex being presented with objects and correctly answering Irene Pepperberg's verbal queries regarding the state of matter and color of the objects.

FURTHER READING: I. M. Pepperberg, The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1999), p. 448.

Western Scrub-Jay Caches Mealworms

Nicky Clayton, Cambridge University

A western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) caches mealworms in a shavings-filled ice-cube tray. Jays were allowed to feed on powdered pine nuts in a central chamber of a three-chambered apparatus each night. The next morning they were confined to one of two side-compartment "breakfast rooms," one of which provided food and the other which didn't.  The jays selectively provisioned the breakfast room that had lacked food with whole pine nuts the first time they had the opportunity to do so. This finding clearly indicates that these birds plan for the future.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York:  Norton, 2013), Chap. 11, “Foraging.” C. R. Raby, C. M. Alexis, A. Dickinson & N. S. Clayton, “Planning for the future by western scrub jays, “ Nature 445 (2007), pp. 919–21.