Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Crows Can Use 'Up To Three Tools' In Correct Sequence Without Training

Date:
August 6, 2009
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
Crows can spontaneously use up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal, something never before observed in non-human animals without explicit training. Sequential tool use has often been interpreted as evidence for advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning, but this has never been explicitly examined.

Crows can spontaneously use up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal, something never before observed in non-human animals without explicit training. Sequential tool use has often been interpreted as evidence for advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning, but this has never been explicitly examined.
Credit: Copyright University of Oxford

New experiments by Oxford University scientists reveal that New Caledonian crows can spontaneously use up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal, something never before observed in non-human animals without explicit training.

Related Articles


Sequential tool use has often been interpreted as evidence for advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning, but this has never been explicitly examined.

The researchers set out to investigate what the crows really understood about the tasks and their own actions with tools. A report of their research appears in the journal PLoS One.

In the wild, New Caledonian crows use a range of tool types for extracting invertebrate prey from holes and crevices, and in captivity, they have been shown to make, or select, tools to retrieve food rewards. In previous experiments, the Oxford team reported that a crow (named ‘Betty’) was capable of spontaneously inventing new tool designs according to what was required by the tasks. In all these cases, however, objects were used to act on pieces of food.

Using tools to act on non-food objects – for example, to make or retrieve other tools – is considered to be a hallmark of human intelligence, and may have been a crucial step in our evolution. One form of this behaviour, ‘sequential tool use,’ has been observed in a number of non-human primates, and has recently been reported for New Caledonian crows by a research team from Auckland University, New Zealand.

In their new study, the Oxford scientists tested seven captive New Caledonian crows on a range of tasks requiring the use of up to three different tools in a sequence to retrieve food. Five crows successfully used tools in a sequence (four from their very first trial), and four repeatedly solved the most demanding three-tool condition. In this, food was placed at a depth so that it was only reachable with one particular tool, but getting that tool required the use of two other others. The crows had to use a short, available tool to drag in a longer, otherwise out-of-reach tool, and then use that longer tool to retrieve the correct, longest one. They could then use the longest tool to reach for the food morsel.

Pre-training on each element in the sequence was not required for successful sequential tool use – an explanation that could not be ruled out in earlier studies on primates and crows. Painstaking analysis of tool choices, tool swapping and improvement over time allowed the team to conclude that successful crows did not probe for tools at random: for example, when birds swapped tools, it was usually to get a longer one. At the same time, however, they could find no firm evidence to support previous claims that sequential tool use demonstrates analogical reasoning or human-like planning.

While the ability of crows to use three tools in sequence reveals a competence beyond that observed in any other non-human species, including non-human primates, this study also emphasises the importance of a cautious approach in comparative cognitive science. Seemingly intelligent behaviour can be achieved without the involvement of high-level mental faculties, and detailed analyses are necessary before accepting claims for complex cognitive abilities.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Crows Can Use 'Up To Three Tools' In Correct Sequence Without Training." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090805144114.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2009, August 6). Crows Can Use 'Up To Three Tools' In Correct Sequence Without Training. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090805144114.htm
University of Oxford. "Crows Can Use 'Up To Three Tools' In Correct Sequence Without Training." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090805144114.htm (accessed March 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, March 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

AFP (Mar. 25, 2015) Experts are gathering in Botswana to try to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Newsy (Mar. 25, 2015) The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff&apos;s Office discovered two elephants keeping a tractor-trailer that had gotten stuck in some mud upright on a highway. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) Buti, a baby orangutan who was left malnourished in a chicken cage before his rescue, takes his first steps after months of painful physical therapy. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins