Clever Ravens Are Able to Make Plans Just Like Apes

In one experiment, the ravens were trained to open a box that contained a piece of dry dog food by dropping a stone through a small tube.

The delay between the item selection and the task ranged from 15 minutes to 17 hours depending on the experiment. They were then offered this choice a second time, and chose the food, showing that they were not choosing the tool because it was a highly positive object, but because of its use in the future.

"Despite previous research that indicates such behaviors are unique to humans and great apes, a new study shows that ravens, too, can plan ahead for different types of events, and further, that they are willing to forgo an immediate reward in order to gain a better one in the future", the statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science reads. But there has been debate about whether those findings showed the animals could indeed plan ahead; Other animals that aren't thought to be able to plan for the future, like squirrels, also cache food.

Osvath suggests that corvid cognition could also be an example of a related concept called parallel evolution, in which basic features in related lineages develop into similar traits.

In a separate situation, the ravens were taught that a token (in the form of a bottle top) would get them a greater reward than other items they were given. And they prepared for future bartering, too.

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Ravens are complex birds.

Research published Friday in the journal Science adds even more evidence to the pile. Other apes also seem to be able to plan for the short-term future, at least up to one night. These experiments show that ravens can "select, save, and later use either a tool or an exchangeable token that acquired functionality" both 15 minutes and 17 hours after being taken, noted the researchers in their study.

Swedish scientists from Lund University conducted this new study.

Even more surprisingly, ravens showed these skills in tool use and trading, behaviors that might not be expected in the wild.

Great apes, such as chimps and gorillas, possess similar skills, but monkeys previously flunked tests that ravens could ace.

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During their study the ravens were presented with a task for the very first time, which is evaluated as a test of intelligence rather than habit, and performed better in comparison to the performance of a four-year-old.

Researchers consider that they should test and monitor more species, to try and determine if these too can plan ahead. In the ninth trial "one female invented a way to open the apparatus without the tool (and was therefore excluded from subsequent tool conditions in the rest of the study)", the paper recorded.

"What I find most interesting is that it's not just one skill that has evolved here, but a combination of skills", Osvath told ScienceAlert. The ravens may not be thinking about the future at all, and are instead just choosing the object with the strongest association with the food, that is, the tool. They even have a brain structure that's analogous to the mammalian neocortex - the part responsible for higher order functioning like conscious thought, sensory perception, spatial reasoning and language. Octopi are so smart that it's almost creepy.

Elephant brains are the biggest among land animals, with their cortex regions having as many neurons as the human brain.

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