Lobsters: smarter than you think

For over a hundred years, lobstermen have been using those familiar box-shaped net traps to catch lobsters. You’ve probably seen them: They have two funnel-shaped openings, and bait inside. Lobstermen — and scientists — have assumed that lobsters would be attracted by the bait, find it easy to get inside, but find it very hard to leave.

As it turns out, this is completely wrong. For the first time, a couple of researchers thought to put a video camera down next to a trap and find out what things are really like:

But when Watson’s team looked at the first time-lapse video, they were totally stunned by what they saw. “The numbers of lobsters were just amazing,” Watson recalls, with lobsters scuffling and fighting over the trap. “It looked like an anthill.”

But the biggest surprise was that the lobsters were happily wandering in and out of the traps at will. On the videos, lobsters of all sizes crawled in and out of the funnel-shaped entrance as they pleased. The biggest impediment they faced were other lobsters, which did their best to chase newcomers away from the bait. Only 6 percent of the lobsters that entered the trap failed to find their way out again.

Lobstermen who have seen the video have been just as surprised. “It’s pretty discouraging to think that here we, as intelligent human beings, have been trying our best to harvest this thing that has no brain to speak of and they’re outsmarting us,” says an amused Pat White of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

A video of these Mensa lobsters is available here.

(Thanks to Plastic for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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