Friday, September 14, 2007

Intelligence and Instinct - Part 2

Although much animal behaviour is instinctive, there are many examples of animals with the ability to use reason and learn.

Keen-minded squirrels rise to every challenge

When a nut is the prize, it seems that a squirrel is prepared to tackle practically any problem. Zoologists studying wild squirrels have sometimes set them the most complex tasks, such as negotiating more than 20 obstacles to reach food. Each of these presents a problem that must be solved, such as pulling a lever to release a gate, balancing on thin wires, working a seesaw or pulling up a string with a nut suspended from it.

But a squirrel's readiness to meet a challenge does not indicate that it is foolhardy. A squirrel that is feeding stops repeatedly to look round for danger from dogs, cats or hawks. Its caution is instinctive, but its reactions are often based on reason. The squirrel is continually assessing the risk of being caught to help it to decide whether to feed on the food scraps at its feet or take them back to the safety of the tree. It might expend more energy in taking scraps to the tree than it would gain by eating them.

In one experiment, squirrels were given biscuits, which they do not bury, and their reactions noted. It was found that if trees were near enough to provide a ready refuge, the squirrels immediately ate all the pieces thrown to them. When farther from the trees, they ate the small pieces on the spot - as these could be devoured quickly - but they took larger ones to the trees. These decisions involved weighing the risk of being caught against the benefit of eating at once.

to be continued...

1 comment:

pearl said...

very good observations you make about these animals... although squirrels are really annoying when they get access to the attic of your house, their intelligence levels are amazing... and a lot can be learned from them