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Primitive Mixology
August 7, 2009 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Aesop's tale of the clever crow just might be a case of astute observation. (Somehow, the story lacks the same panache when a great ape is the hero.)
posted by IndigoJones (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
We will stop being so astonished by these stories (and be more open to things like evolutionary psychology) when we stop thinking of humans as special creations unrelated to the animal kingdom. We need to find quantitative measures of tool use, language, etc, not just qualitative "has it/doesn't have it" dichotomies.
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


And sometimes the rooks themselves are tools.
posted by otolith at 10:43 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Corvids scare the bejeesus out of me.

They are incredibly intelligent, use novel tools, and can be trained very quickly to do surprisingly complex tasks. Ravens can mimic human speech as well as a slew of other animal noises, and are surprisingly good pets if hand reared. Crows are capable of learning to open simple locks, as well as observe and then mimic how to open bird feeders. We should be thankful that they have yet to discover fire.

Of course, this is no where near as terrifying as the realization I had a few years ago that king cobras are apparently one of the most intelligent snakes out there.
posted by strixus at 10:52 AM on August 7, 2009


A few years ago I noticed a group of ravens hanging around in the parking lot of a grocery store. They often gathered there to raid the dumpsters and grab any food that people dropped. On this day they were all gathered around one of their members whose beak seemed to be completely trapped in a plastic soda bottle. The bottle went all the way up to its eyes and it was wagging its head up and down in what looked like distress. As I was watching and thinking about what I could do to help this poor raven it reached up with a talon and adroitly plucked the bottle from its beak. Then it started waving its head and making raucous raven noises and all of the other ravens joined in. It then positioned the bottle with its claw, stuck its beak back in and the whole performance repeated. To this day I believe that I was a witness to a raven joke (possibly about those idiot big-beaked seagulls).
posted by otolith at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2009 [30 favorites]


Corvids scare the bejeesus out of me.


It seems you're not alone.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:25 AM on August 7, 2009


Great, thanks strixus...like I didn't already have enough reasons to be terrified of snakes!!

I'm surprised there's been no quothing of nevermore just yet.
posted by Go Banana at 11:46 AM on August 7, 2009


"Why not train them to pick up garbage after stadium events? Or find expensive components from discarded electronics? Or maybe do search and rescue?..."
posted by rough at 11:48 AM on August 7, 2009


Oh, so they were just mad that they weren't allowed IN to the schoolhouse? Was that it?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2009


strixus: "We should be thankful that they have yet to discover fire. "

Indeed. Because once they find something out, they tend to remember it for a very long time.
If anyone wants me, I'll be out in the garden, feeding the crows...
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2009


We need to find quantitative measures of tool use, language, etc, not just qualitative "has it/doesn't have it" dichotomies.

There are already some thresholds or levels for intelligence. Here's my quickly put together list:

1. no tool use (find food, eat it)
2. simple series of actions (find turtle, drop drop from great height, eat the squishy bits)
3. simple tool use (put stick in the hole, get ants on the stick, eat the ants)
4. complex tool use/series of events (find nearly empty jug of water, fill with stones, drink water)
5. really complex tool use and series of actions (dig a water hole, strip bark from a tree, chew bark into a ball, then use it to fill the hole, cover top with sand - viola! an evaporation-resistant canteen)
6. fire
posted by filthy light thief at 4:09 PM on August 7, 2009


Wouldn't filling a container of water with stones actually not be a very good way of getting the water out?

The idea is to bring the water closer to the top of the container, right? But if you fill it with irregularly-shaped stones, the water is still going to sit at the bottom. I don't get why this is considered a clever trick worthy of corvid-intelligence lore.
posted by hifiparasol at 4:45 PM on August 7, 2009


Eureka.
posted by the cuban at 5:23 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if you fill it with irregularly-shaped stones, the water is still going to sit at the bottom.

It all depends on how much water there is, how much you need to raise the water level, and how irregularly-shaped the stones are. At some point, the water will just surround the stones, but if there's enough water, it'll work.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:26 PM on August 7, 2009


Filling it with irregularly-shaped stones would be better than filling it with regularly shaped stones, so long as you dropped them in in such a way that you induced better packing. Which you could probably influence with a simple jostle to the container, under some circumstances. Tighter packed lattice of stones, higher water surface.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:09 AM on August 8, 2009


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