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By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega Was Tyrannosaurus rex as smart as a baboon? Scientists don’t like to compare intelligence between species (everyone has their own talents, after all), but a controversial new study suggests some dino brains were as densely packed with neurons as those of modern primates. If so, that would mean they were very smart—more than researchers previously thought—and could have achieved feats only humans and other very intelligent animals have, such as using tools. The findings, reported last week in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, are making waves among paleontologists on social media and beyond. Some are applauding the paper as a good first step toward better understanding dinosaur smarts, whereas others argue the neuron estimates are flawed, undercutting the study’s conclusions. Measuring dinosaur intelligence has never been easy. Historically, researchers have used something called the encephalization quotient (EQ), which measures an animal’s relative brain size, related to its body size. A T. rex, for example, had an EQ of about 2.4, compared with 3.1 for a German shepherd dog and 7.8 for a human—leading some to assume it was at least somewhat smart. EQ is hardly foolproof, however. In many animals, body size evolves independently from brain size, says Ashley Morhardt, a paleoneurologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study. “EQ is a fraught metric, especially when studying extinct species.” Looking for a more trustworthy alternative, Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroanatomist at Vanderbilt University, turned to a different measure: the density of neurons in the cortex, the wrinkly outer brain area critical to most intelligence-related tasks. She had previously estimated the number of neurons in many animal species, including humans, by making “brain soup”—dissolving brains in a detergent solution—and counting the neurons in different parts of the brain. © 2023 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 28627 - Posted: 01.12.2023

By Bruce Bower An ancient hominid dubbed Homo naledi may have lit controlled fires in the pitch-dark chambers of an underground cave system, new discoveries hint. Researchers have found remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges in passages and chambers throughout South Africa’s Rising Star cave complex, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger announced in a December 1 lecture hosted by the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C. “Signs of fire use are everywhere in this cave system,” said Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. H. naledi presumably lit the blazes in the caves since remains of no other hominids have turned up there, the team says. But the researchers have yet to date the age of the fire remains. And researchers outside Berger’s group have yet to evaluate the new finds. H. naledi fossils date to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago (SN: 5/9/17), around the time Homo sapiens originated (SN: 6/7/17). Many researchers suspect that regular use of fire by hominids for light, warmth and cooking began roughly 400,000 years ago (SN: 4/2/12). Such behavior has not been attributed to H. naledi before, largely because of its small brain. But it’s now clear that a brain roughly one-third the size of human brains today still enabled H. naledi to achieve control of fire, Berger contends. Last August, Berger climbed down a narrow shaft and examined two underground chambers where H. naledi fossils had been found. He noticed stalactites and thin rock sheets that had partly grown over older ceiling surfaces. Those surfaces displayed blackened, burned areas and were also dotted by what appeared to be soot particles, Berger said. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 28582 - Posted: 12.06.2022

Cephalopods like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish are highly intelligent animals with complex nervous systems. In “Science Advances”, a team led by Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center has now shown that their evolution is linked to a dramatic expansion of their microRNA repertoire. If we go far enough back in evolutionary history, we encounter the last known common ancestor of humans and cephalopods: a primitive wormlike animal with minimal intelligence and simple eyespots. Later, the animal kingdom can be divided into two groups of organisms – those with backbones and those without. While vertebrates, particularly primates and other mammals, went on to develop large and complex brains with diverse cognitive abilities, invertebrates did not. With one exception: the cephalopods. Scientists have long wondered why such a complex nervous system was only able to develop in these mollusks. Now, an international team led by researchers from the Max Delbrück Center and Dartmouth College in the United States has put forth a possible reason. In a paper published in “Science Advances”, they explain that octopuses possess a massively expanded repertoire of microRNAs (miRNAs) in their neural tissue – reflecting similar developments that occurred in vertebrates. “So, this is what connects us to the octopus!” says Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky, Scientific Director of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC-BIMSB), head of the Systems Biology of Gene Regulatory Elements Lab, and the paper’s last author. He explains that this finding probably means miRNAs play a fundamental role in the development of complex brains.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28571 - Posted: 11.30.2022

By Diana Kwon Crows are some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. They are capable of making rule-guided decisions and of creating and using tools. They also appear to show an innate sense of what numbers are. Researchers now report that these clever birds are able to understand recursion—the process of embedding structures in other, similar structures—which was long thought to be a uniquely human ability. Recursion is a key feature of language. It enables us to build elaborate sentences from simple ones. Take the sentence “The mouse the cat chased ran.” Here the clause “the cat chased” is enclosed within the clause “the mouse ran.” For decades, psychologists thought that recursion was a trait of humans alone. Some considered it the key feature that set human language apart from other forms of communication between animals. But questions about that assumption persisted. “There’s always been interest in whether or not nonhuman animals can also grasp recursive sequences,” says Diana Liao, a postdoctoral researcher at the lab of Andreas Nieder, a professor of animal physiology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. In a study of monkeys and human adults and children published in 2020, a group of researchers reported that the ability to produce recursive sequences may not actually be unique to our species after all. Both humans and monkeys were shown a display with two pairs of bracket symbols that appeared in a random order. The subjects were trained to touch them in the order of a “center-embedded” recursive sequence such as { ( ) } or ( { } ). After giving the right answer, humans received verbal feedback, and monkeys were given a small amount of food or juice as a reward. Afterward the researchers presented their subjects with a completely new set of brackets and observed how often they arranged them in a recursive manner. Two of the three monkeys in the experiment generated recursive sequences more often than nonrecursive sequences such as { ( } ), although they needed an additional training session to do so. One of the animals generated recursive sequences in around half of the trials. Three- to four-year-old children, by comparison, formed recursive sequences in approximately 40 percent of the trials. © 2022 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28563 - Posted: 11.23.2022

Emma Marris For the first time, octopuses have been spotted throwing things — at each other1. Octopuses are known for their solitary nature, but in Jervis Bay, Australia, the gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus) lives at very high densities. A team of cephalopod researchers decided to film the creatures with underwater cameras to see whether — and how — they interact. Once the researchers pulled the cameras out of the water, they sat down to watch more than 20 hours of footage. “I call it octopus TV,” laughs co-author David Scheel, a behavioural ecologist at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. One behaviour stood out: instances in which the eight-limbed creatures gathered shells, silt or algae with their arms — and then hurled them away, propelling them with water jetted from their siphon. And although some of the time it seemed that they were just throwing away debris or food leftovers, it did sometimes appear that they were throwing things at each other. The team found clues that the octopuses were deliberately targeting one another. Throws that made contact with another octopus were relatively strong and often occurred when the thrower was displaying a uniform dark or medium body colour. Another clue: sometimes the octopuses on the receiving end ducked. Throws that made octo-contact were also more likely to be accomplished with a specific set of arms, and the projectile was more likely to be silt. “We weren’t able to try and assess what the reasons might be,” Scheel cautions. But throwing, he says, “might help these animals deal with the fact that there are so many octopuses around”. In other words, it is probably social. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28549 - Posted: 11.13.2022

Laurel Wamsley Perhaps the real law of the jungle is that it's good to have friends — especially those who know where to find the the free food. Case in point: It turns out chimpanzees and gorillas can be pals, evidently with advantages for all. That finding is from a new paper in the journal iScience that analyzes social interactions between the primate species over two decades at the Nouabalé-Ndoki Park in the Republic of Congo. Over that 20-year period, researchers saw gorillas follow the sound of chimps to a canopy full of ripe figs, and then co-feed at the same tree. They witnessed young individuals of both species playing and wrestling with each other – interactions that can foster their development. And when bands of the two species encountered each other, researchers saw gorillas and chimps scan the others and then approach the ones they knew. They even saw chimpanzees beating their chests – a behavior associated with gorillas. Researchers had theorized that associations between the species could perhaps be to avoid predators such as leopards or snakes. But the apes' behavior didn't show that to be a major factor in their interactions. "Predation is certainly a threat in this region, as we have cases in which chimpanzees have been killed by leopards," Washington University primatologist Crickette Sanz, who led the research, said in a news release. "However, the number of chimpanzees in daily subgroups remains relatively small, and gorillas within groups venture far from the silverback who is thought to be a protector from predation." Instead, better foraging seemed to be a key upside for both species – sometimes eating at the same tree, sometimes dining nearby on different foods. Not every interaction was warm and friendly. "Interspecific aggression was bidirectional and most frequently consisted of threats," the study notes – but it never rose to the level of lethal aggression that has occurred between chimps and gorillas in Gabon. © 2022 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28548 - Posted: 11.13.2022

By Jack Tamisiea An elephant’s trunk has 40,000 muscles and weighs more than a Burmese python. The appendage is strong enough to uproot a tree, yet sensitive enough to suction up fragile tortilla chips. But how does an elephant’s brain help accomplish these feats of dexterity? That has been difficult to study, according to Michael Brecht, a neuroscientist at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Weighing in excess of 10 pounds, the elephant’s brain degrades quickly after death and is a hassle to store. “I tend to think that the big animals are a bit neglected because we don’t do enough work on big brains,” Dr. Brecht said. Dr. Brecht and his colleagues were fortunate enough to gain access to a trove of elephant brains from animals that had died of natural causes or were euthanized for health reasons and ended up either frozen or in a fixative substance at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Brecht and his colleagues reported that elephants had more facial neurons than any other land mammal, which might contribute to trunk dexterity and other anatomical abilities. The study also helped to pinpoint major differences between the neural wirings of African savanna elephants and Asian elephants. Using the brains of four Asian elephants and four African savanna elephants, the researchers homed in on the facial nucleus, a bundle of neurons concentrated in the brainstem and hooked up to facial nerves. In mammals, these neurons serve as the control center for facial muscles. They’re in command whenever you wrinkle your nose, purse your lips or raise your eyebrows. They also help elephants employ their trunks. The researchers divided the facial nucleus into regions of neurons that controlled the elephant’s ears, lips and trunk. African elephants sported 63,000 facial neurons, while their Asian cousins had 54,000. The only mammals with more are dolphins, which pack nearly 90,000 facial neurons into their sensitive snouts. While his team expected both African savanna and Asian elephants to possess massive stores of facial neurons, Dr. Brecht said the discrepancy between the two species was noteworthy. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 28533 - Posted: 10.28.2022

Ewen Callaway Set on a rocky outcrop in southern Siberia, Chagyrskaya Cave might not look like much. But for one family of Neanderthals, it was home. For the first time, researchers have identified a set of closely related Neanderthals: a father and his teenage daughter and two other, more-distant relatives. The discovery of the family — reported on 19 October in Nature1 — and seven other individuals (including a pair of possible cousins from another clan) in the same cave, along with two more from a nearby site, represents the largest ever cache of Neanderthal genomes. The findings also suggest that Neanderthal communities were small, and that females routinely left their families to join new groups. Gleaning insights into kinship and social structure is new territory for ancient-genome studies, which have typically focused on broader population history, says Krishna Veeramah, a population geneticist at Stonybrook University in New York. “The fact that we can do this with Neanderthals is incredible.” Buried treasure Set on the banks of the Charysh River in the foothills of the Altai mountains, Chagyrskaya is 100 kilometres west of Denisova Cave, an archaeological treasure trove in which humans, Neanderthals, Denisovans (and at least one Neanderthal–Denisovan hybrid) all lived intermittently over some 300,000 years2,3. Excavations of Chagyrskaya, however, have so far revealed only Neanderthal remains, dated to between 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and characteristic stone tools. In 2020, a genome sequence from a female Neanderthal from Chagyrskaya suggested she belonged to population distinct from those that occupied Denisova Cave much earlier4. To study the cave’s inhabitants in greater depth, a team of researchers led by palaeogeneticist Laurits Skov and population geneticist Benjamin Peter at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, extracted DNA from 17 other ancient-human remains from Chagyrskaya, as well as several from a nearby cave, called Okladnikov. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 28521 - Posted: 10.22.2022

By Benjamin Mueller Svante Pääbo, a Swedish scientist who peered back into human history by retrieving genetic material from 40,000-year-old bones, producing a complete Neanderthal genome and launching the field of ancient DNA studies, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday. The prize recognized an improbable scientific career. Having once dreamed of becoming an Egyptologist, Dr. Pääbo devoted his early years of research to extracting genetic material from mummies, only for that research to run aground because the samples might have become contaminated by his and his colleagues’ own DNA. Within about two decades, in 2006, he had launched an unlikely effort to decipher a Neanderthal genome. He designed so-called clean rooms dedicated to handling ancient DNA, which protected his fossils from the genetic material of living humans. And dramatic advances in sequencing technology allowed him to decode the sort of badly damaged DNA found in ancient bones. “It was certainly considered to be impossible to recover DNA from 40,000-year-old bones,” said Dr. Nils-Göran Larsson, the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine and a professor of medical biochemistry at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. In 2010, Dr. Pääbo unveiled the Neanderthal genome. The publication opened a window into questions about what made early humans different from modern ones. It also helped scientists track genetic differences in modern humans and understand what role those differences play in disease, including Covid-19. In 2020, Dr. Pääbo and a colleague found that the coronavirus caused more severe symptoms in people who had inherited a stretch of Neanderthal DNA. Even some of Dr. Pääbo’s biggest admirers described the prize as unexpected. Analysts have long speculated that the scientists who sequenced the modern human genome were strong contenders for a Nobel Prize, not thinking that the scientist who sequenced Neanderthal DNA would get there first. But geneticists said that the two projects were interwoven: Rapid advances in sequencing technology that followed the beginning of the Human Genome Project in 1990, they said, helped Dr. Pääbo to interpret tiny quantities of Neanderthal DNA, damaged as they were from tens of thousands of years underground. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28500 - Posted: 10.05.2022

By Tess Joosse “Bird brain” insults be damned. The noggins of our flying friends are packed with neurons, and recent studies have shown birds can develop complex tools and even discriminate between paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. But is this avian acumen a recent development, evolutionarily speaking, or does it trace back tens of millions of years? A remarkably preserved fossil unearthed in Brazil may hold some answers. The 80-million-year-old bird skull contains impressions of advanced brain structures, suggesting early birds were bright like modern ones. The preserved braincase, from a now-extinct bird lineage, is “exceptional … a big step forward,” says Matteo Fabbri, an evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum of Natural History who was not involved with the work. “This is the first time we have really good information regarding the brain of [this] group.” Birds began to evolve about 165 million to 150 million years ago from dinosaurs. Some of the earliest—whose ancestors were carnivorous icons such as Velociraptor—were the famous feathered Archaeopteryx. Over time, avians branched into a group called the enantiornithines and close cousins who became modern birds. Ranging from the size of hummingbirds to turkeys, enantiornithines took to the skies in the Mesozoic era beginning 130 million years ago. The creatures eventually spanned the globe before going extinct 66 million years ago from the same asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs. Their position between Archaeopteryx and living birds gives them a “magical place on the dino-bird family tree,” says Daniel Field, a paleontologist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the new study. To reconstruct the brains of ancient birds, researchers need fossils that preserve the hollow space where a brain would sit: the braincase. But no enantiornithine skeletons have preserved that space—until the new find. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 28492 - Posted: 09.28.2022

Michael Nolan Jellyfish, anemones and coral polyps, known collectively as cnidarians, have captured the imaginations of scientists across biological disciplines for centuries. Their radial symmetries and graceful, fluid movements lend them an undeniable appeal, but it’s their peculiar nervous systems that have drawn recent attention from neuroscientists. Unlike in most animals, whose neurons are gathered into bundles of nerves and larger structures like brains and ganglia, cnidarian neurons are distributed through their tissues in structures called nerve nets. This diffuse organization makes it possible to observe neural activity from many neurons simultaneously: Because neurons are spread in a thin layer, no neuron blocks an observer’s view of another. That means researchers can use techniques like calcium imaging to potentially capture the activity of a cnidarian’s entire nervous system, rather than a subset of neurons in the dense tangle of a mouse brain, for example. Neuroscientists are leveraging the accessibility of nerve nets to more deeply explore the properties of neural ensembles, groups of neurons that fire in a correlated fashion. Ensembles are a fundamental feature of the brain; they offer a simple example of functional structure in an animal’s nervous system and have become a popular target for systems neuroscientists because they combine population coding (how neural activity encodes information in populations of cells) and connectivity (how connections among neurons relate to population activity). Understanding how these groups form, how they coordinate patterns of neural activity, and how they drive behavior may reveal organizational principles also present in larger and more complicated nervous systems. © Simons Foundation Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Image Credits

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 28485 - Posted: 09.21.2022

Sara Reardon More than 500,000 years ago, the ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans were migrating around the world when a pivotal genetic mutation caused some of their brains to improve suddenly. This mutation, researchers report in Science1, drastically increased the number of brain cells in the hominins that preceded modern humans, probably giving them a cognitive advantage over their Neanderthal cousins. “This is a surprisingly important gene,” says Arnold Kriegstein, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco. However, he expects that it will turn out to be one of many genetic tweaks that gave humans an evolutionary advantage over other hominins. “I think it sheds a whole new light on human evolution.” When researchers first reported the sequence of a complete Neanderthal genome in 20142, they identified 96 amino acids — the building blocks that make up proteins — that differ between Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as some other genetic tweaks. Scientists have been studying this list to learn which of these changes helped modern humans to outcompete Neanderthals and other hominins. Cognitive advantage To neuroscientists Anneline Pinson and Wieland Huttner at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, one gene stood out. TKTL1 encodes a protein that is made when a fetus’s brain is first developing. A mutation in the human version changed one amino acid, resulting in a protein that is different from those found in hominin ancestors, Neanderthals and non-human primates. The researchers suspected that this protein could increase the proliferation of neural progenitor cells, which become neurons, as the brain develops, specifically in an area called the neocortex — a region involved in cognitive function. This, they reasoned, could contribute to modern humans’ cognitive advantage. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28477 - Posted: 09.14.2022

By Kate Golembiewski Humans spend about 35 minutes every day chewing. That adds up to more than a full week out of every year. But that’s nothing compared to the time spent masticating by our cousins: Chimps chew for 4.5 hours a day, and orangutans clock 6.6 hours. The differences between our chewing habits and those of our closest relatives offer insights into human evolution. A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances explores how much energy people use while chewing, and how that may have guided — or been guided by — our gradual transformation into modern humans. Chewing, in addition to keeping us from choking, makes the energy and nutrients in food accessible to the digestive system. But the very act of chewing requires us to expend energy. Adaptations to teeth, jaws and muscles all play a part in how efficiently humans chew. Adam van Casteren, an author of the new study and a research associate at the University of Manchester in England, says that scientists haven’t delved too deeply into the energetic costs of chewing partly because compared with other things we do, such as walking or running, it’s a thin slice of the energy-use pie. But even comparatively small advantages can play a big role in evolution, and he wanted to find out if that might be the case with chewing. To measure the energy that goes into chewing, Dr. van Casteren and his colleagues outfitted study participants in the Netherlands with plastic hoods that look like “an astronaut’s helmet,” he said. The hoods were connected to tubes to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide from breathing. Because metabolic processes are fueled by oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, gas exchange can be a useful measure for how much energy something takes. The researchers then gave the subjects gum. The participants didn’t get the sugary kind, though; the gum bases they chewed were flavorless and odorless. Digestive systems respond to flavors and scents, so the researchers wanted to make sure they were only measuring the energy associated with chewing and not the energy of a stomach gearing up for a tasty meal. The test subjects chewed two pieces of gum, one hard and one soft, for 15 minutes each. The results surprised researchers. The softer gum raised the participants’ metabolic rates about 10 percent higher than when they were resting; the harder gum caused a 15 percent increase. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 28440 - Posted: 08.20.2022

By Tim Vernimmen Just a few decades ago, even most biologists would have readily agreed that culture is a quintessentially human feature. Sure, they already knew there were dialects in birdsong, and good evidence that many birds largely learned these regional songs by copying other birds. They knew that some enterprising European songbirds called tits had learned how to open milk bottles by watching one another. Scientists had even reported that the practice of washing sweet potatoes in seawater had spread among the members of a Japanese colony of macaque monkeys. But these and similar behavioral differences between populations — ones that couldn’t easily be explained by differences in their genes or environment — seemed limited in scope. Compare that with human culture, which creates variation in nearly everything we do. In recent decades, however, scientists have learned that culture plays a much more pervasive role in the lives of nonhuman animals than anyone had imagined. “The whole field has absolutely exploded in discoveries in the present century,” says primatologist Andrew Whiten of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the author of a 2019 overview of cultural evolution in animals in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. Whiten was one of the pioneers of the surge in animal culture research. In 1999, he oversaw an analysis in which primatologists published their findings from nearly four decades of studying wild chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. “We could show chimpanzees have multiple traditions affecting all different aspects of their lives,” he says — from foraging to tool use to courtship. Similar findings followed for several other apes and monkeys. © 2022 Annual Reviews

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28417 - Posted: 08.03.2022

Philip Ball How do you spot an optimistic pig? This isn’t the setup for a punchline; the question is genuine, and in the answer lies much that is revealing about our attitudes to other minds – to minds, that is, that are not human. If the notion of an optimistic (or for that matter a pessimistic) pig sounds vaguely comical, it is because we scarcely know how to think about other minds except in relation to our own. Here is how you spot an optimistic pig: you train the pig to associate a particular sound – a note played on a glockenspiel, say – with a treat, such as an apple. When the note sounds, an apple falls through a hatch so the pig can eat it. But another sound – a dog-clicker, say – signals nothing so nice. If the pig approaches the hatch on hearing the clicker, all it gets is a plastic bag rustled in its face. What happens now if the pig hears neither of these sounds, but instead a squeak from a dog toy? An optimistic pig might think there’s a chance that this, too, signals delivery of an apple. A pessimistic pig figures it will just get the plastic bag treatment. But what makes a pig optimistic? In 2010, researchers at Newcastle University showed that pigs reared in a pleasant, stimulating environment, with room to roam, plenty of straw, and “pig toys” to explore, show the optimistic response to the squeak significantly more often than pigs raised in a small, bleak, boring enclosure. In other words, if you want an optimistic pig, you must treat it not as pork but as a being with a mind, deserving the resources for a cognitively rich life. We don’t, and probably never can, know what it feels like to be an optimistic pig. Objectively, there’s no reason to suppose that it feels like anything: that there is “something it is like” to be a pig, whether apparently happy or gloomy. Until rather recently, philosophers and scientists have been reluctant to grant a mind to any nonhuman entity. Feelings and emotions, hope and pain and a sense of self were deemed attributes that separated us from the rest of the living world. To René Descartes in the 17th century, and to behavioural psychologist BF Skinner in the 1950s, other animals were stimulus-response mechanisms that could be trained but lacked an inner life. To grant animals “minds” in any meaningful sense was to indulge a crude anthropomorphism that had no place in science. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28367 - Posted: 06.11.2022

By Jack Tamisiea Sign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox. Since the days of Charles Darwin, the long necks of giraffes have been a textbook example of evolution. The theory goes that as giraffe ancestors competed for food, those with longer necks were able to reach higher leaves, getting a leg — or neck — up over shorter animals. But a bizarre prehistoric giraffe relative reveals that fighting may have driven early neck evolution in addition to foraging. In a study published Thursday in Science, a team of paleontologists described Discokeryx xiezhi, a giraffe ancestor, as having helmet-like headgear and bulky neck vertebrae. Discokeryx was adapted to absorb and deliver skull-cracking collisions to woo mates and vanquish rivals. “It shows that giraffe evolution is not just elongating the neck,” said Jin Meng, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and co-author of the new study. “Discokeryx goes in a totally different direction.” Dr. Meng and his colleagues discovered the fossils in an outcrop of rock in northwestern China called the Junggar Basin. Around 17 million years ago, this area was an expanse of savannas and forests home to an array of large mammals like shovel-tusked elephants, short-horned rhinoceroses and burly bear dogs. While exploring this bonebed in 1996, Dr. Meng stumbled across a hunk of skull. He could tell it was a mammalian braincase, but the top was flattened like an iron press. Without more of the animal’s skeleton, Dr. Meng and his colleagues referred to it as the “strange beast.” © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 28350 - Posted: 06.04.2022

By Veronique Greenwood Lovebirds, small parrots with vibrant rainbow plumage and cheeky personalities, are popular pets. They swing from ropes, cuddle with companions and race for treats in a waddling gait with all the urgency of toddlers who spot a cookie. But, along with other parrots, they also do something strange: They use their faces to climb walls. Give these birds a vertical surface to clamber up, and they cycle between left foot, right foot and beak as if their mouths were another limb. In fact, a new analysis of the forces climbing lovebirds exert reveals that this is precisely what they are doing. Somehow, a team of scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, the birds and perhaps other parrot species have repurposed the muscles in their necks and heads so they can walk on their beaks, using them the way rock climbers use their arms. Climbing with a beak as a third limb is peculiar because third limbs generally are not something life on Earth is capable of producing, said Michael Granatosky, an assistant professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology and an author of the new paper. “There is this very deep, deep set aspect of our biology that everything is bilateral” in much of the animal kingdom, he said. The situation makes it developmentally unlikely to grow an odd numbers of limbs for walking. Some animals have developed workarounds. Kangaroos use their tails as a fifth limb when hopping slowly, pushing off from the ground with their posteriors the same way they push with their feet. To see if parrots were using their beaks in a similar way, Dr. Granatosky and a graduate student, Melody Young, as well as their colleagues brought six rosy-faced lovebirds from a pet store into the lab. They had the birds climb up a surface that was fitted with a sensor to keep track of how much force they were exerting and in what directions. The scientists found that the propulsive force the birds applied through their beaks was similar to what they provided with their legs. What had started as a way to eat had transformed into a way to walk, with beaks as powerful as their limbs. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 28336 - Posted: 05.25.2022

Erin Spencer The octopus is one of the coolest animals in the sea. For starters, they are invertebrates. That means they don’t have backbones like humans, lions, turtles and birds. Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week That may sound unusual, but actually, nearly all animals on Earth are invertebrates – about 97%. Octopuses are a specific type of invertebrate called cephalopods. The name means “head-feet” because the arms of cephalopods surround their heads. Other types of cephalopods include squid, nautiloids and cuttlefish. As marine ecologists, we conduct research on how ocean animals interact with each other and their environments. We’ve mostly studied fish, from lionfish to sharks, but we have to confess we remain captivated by octopuses. What octopuses eat depends on what species they are and where they live. Their prey includes gastropods, like snails and sea slugs; bivalves, like clams and mussels; crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs; and fish. To catch their food, octopuses use lots of strategies and tricks. Some octopuses wrap their arms – not tentacles – around prey to pull them close. Some use their hard beak to drill into the shells of clams. All octopuses are venomous; they inject toxins into their prey to overpower and kill them. There are about 300 species of octopus, and they’re found in every ocean in the world, even in the frigid waters around Antarctica. A special substance in their blood helps those cold-water species get oxygen. It also turns their blood blue. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28321 - Posted: 05.11.2022

By Carolyn Gramling Modern mammals are known for their big brains. But new analyses of mammal skulls from creatures that lived shortly after the dinosaur mass extinction shows that those brains weren’t always a foregone conclusion. For at least 10 million years after the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals got a lot brawnier but not brainier, researchers report in the April 1 Science. That bucks conventional wisdom, to put it mildly. “I thought, it’s not possible, there must be something that I did wrong,” says Ornella Bertrand, a mammal paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh. “It really threw me off. How am I going to explain that they were not smart?” Modern mammals have the largest brains in the animal kingdom relative to their body size. How and when that brain evolution happened is a mystery. One idea has been that the disappearance of all nonbird dinosaurs following an asteroid impact at the end of the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago left a vacuum for mammals to fill (SN: 1/25/17). Recent discoveries of fossils dating to the Paleocene — the immediately post-extinction epoch spanning 66 million to 56 million years ago — does reveal a flourishing menagerie of weird and wonderful mammal species, many much bigger than their Mesozoic predecessors. It was the dawn of the Age of Mammals. Before those fossil finds, the prevailing wisdom was that in the wake of the mass dino extinction, mammals’ brains most likely grew apace with their bodies, everything increasing together like an expanding balloon, Bertrand says. But those discoveries of Paleocene fossil troves in Colorado and New Mexico, as well as reexaminations of fossils previously found in France, are now unraveling that story, by offering scientists the chance to actually measure the size of mammals’ brains over time. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 28266 - Posted: 04.02.2022

Dominique Potvin When we attached tiny, backpack-like tracking devices to five Australian magpies for a pilot study, we didn’t expect to discover an entirely new social behaviour rarely seen in birds. Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new, durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outsmarted us. As our new research paper explains, the magpies began showing evidence of cooperative “rescue” behaviour to help each other remove the tracker. While we’re familiar with magpies being intelligent and social creatures, this was the first instance we knew of that showed this type of seemingly altruistic behaviour: helping another member of the group without getting an immediate, tangible reward. As academic scientists, we’re accustomed to experiments going awry in one way or another. Expired substances, failing equipment, contaminated samples, an unplanned power outage—these can all set back months (or even years) of carefully planned research. For those of us who study animals, and especially behaviour, unpredictability is part of the job description. This is the reason we often require pilot studies. Our pilot study was one of the first of its kind—most trackers are too big to fit on medium to small birds, and those that do tend to have very limited capacity for data storage or battery life. They also tend to be single-use only. A novel aspect of our research was the design of the harness that held the tracker. We devised a method that didn’t require birds to be caught again to download precious data or reuse the small devices. © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28218 - Posted: 02.26.2022