Crow tools

Okay, forget about chimps, rhesus monkeys, or the great apes. Clearly humanity has evolved not from primates, but from crows. In a paper in Science last year, a few scientists observed a crow using a piece of wire to retreive food from a flask. There’s a totally mind-bending video of it here, and the description is thus:

In the experiments, a captive female crow, confronted with a task that required a curved tool (retrieving a food-containing bucket from a vertical pipe), spontaneously bent a piece of straight wire into a hooked shape — and then repeated the behavior in nine out of ten subsequent trials. Though these crows are known to employ tools in the wild using natural materials, this bird had no prior training with the use of pliant materials such as wire — a fact that makes its apparently spontaneous, highly specific problem-solving all the more interesting, and raises intriguing questions about the evolutionary preconditions for complex cognition. The crow’s behavior was captured on an unusual video clip, available on Science Online.

Christ, it’s a good thing they didn’t leave a Palm Pilot lying around that room. That crow’d probably have venture-capital financing lined up for a company by now.

(Thanks to Boing Boing 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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