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.

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 April 23, 2014 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 April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur on Monday when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Drake University hosts 35th annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) One Florida fisherman caught a 805-pound shark off the coast of Florida earlier this month. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

AP (Apr. 21, 2014) Breakfast is now being served with a side of sticker shock. The cost of morning staples like bacon, coffee and orange juice is on the rise because of global supply problems. (April 21) Video provided by AP
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:
from the past week

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