October 10, 2012

Why New Caledonian crows are so smart

Crows are intelligent. Pretty much everyone knows this by now. And their abilities have been showcased in many science experiments, proving this is not an anomaly of human perception. They really are smart.

But one species of crows stands apart from all the others. New Caledonian crows are excellent tool-makers. They construct tools from twigs, leaves, wires -- anything close at hand -- and use them to dig their prey out of holes. They can also figure out all sorts of problems in science experiments. These guys think. But why are they so much better at these tasks than their crow relatives?

A story at physorg provides the answer.
The bird's eyes are more forward-positioned, rather than sideways-positioned, which gives it exceptional "binocular overlap," they found. This is the area that is viewed by both eyeballs, and is important because it helps the brain judge the distance of nearby objects. In New Caledonian crows, the binocular overlap is 61.5 degrees, which is at least 23.9 degrees greater than in non-tool-using species of crow that the researchers also examined.
They can see what they're doing. Mystery solved. Of course, they also have fine brains, but this is what separates them from their close relatives. Very cool study. I'm going to examine my favorite crows the next time I see them, and check out the position of their eyes.

Science is great. So, how many mysteries has religion figured out with it's "other ways of knowing"? None, and counting.

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