Category Archives: Animal Intelligence

Saved by a Whale

This one’s different!

I’ve posted before about whales and dolphins who needed help and who sometimes even seemed to ask for it. And say thank you. Now it’s the lady scientist who needs help, only she doesn’t know it yet. A giant whale probably saves her life, because he knows something she doesn’t. She’s being stalked by a huge shark!

Certainly a scary experience, but fantastic!!! Something she can tell her grandchildren about!

Asian Elephant Rescues Caretaker

This 17 year old Asian elephant, Thongsri, comes to the aid of her caretaker.

Elephants — both African and Asian — are some of the most intelligent and emotionally complex animals on earth. In the wild, they live in matriarchal groups consisting of one or a few adult females (usually close relatives) and their young offspring. Adult males are mostly solitary.

A group of females and their young form strong social bonds and are very loyal to each other. Domesticated ones can include their caretakers as ‘members’ of their group.

Elephant Rescues Caretaker

When Thongsri, a 17-year-old female living at a sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand, saw her caretaker apparently being attacked, she rushed to his rescue.

I suspect it’s a good thing the mock attacker left in a hurry.


Another amazing whale rescue!

This is amazing! The great humpback whale was given its life back.

This is even more dramatic than the other cetacean rescues I’ve reported on here and here. They thought this humpback whale was dead until, after several minutes, it broke the surface for a gasp of air.

Then the photographers discovered it was trapped in a large amount of fishnet, so much its fins were pinned to its sides and back and its tail fluke was bound. It couldn’t swim. It could hardly move and soon would have been dead.

They spent an hour cutting huge amounts of fishing net from the whale’s body, ending up with a boat load of the trash.

When it was all over, the whale put on a show for them. Like the other whale rescue that I posted about, this great humpback whale seems to be expressing its gratitude.

humpback whale
humpback whale


Smart Racoon

“Rocksy the Racoon” raids and empties the cat food bowl. Then she knocks on the door for a refill. She has lived in the same yard for years, but nobody seems to know how she figured out how to knock. Even more amazing is that she has learned her soft paws won’t make enough noise, so she knocks gently on the glass door with a rock! Thus her name. And look how persistent she is!

This chimp doesn’t like drones

This past April, an irritated chimpanzee named Tushi at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands, purposefully took a 1.8-meter-long (5’11”) stick and knocked a filmmaker’s drone out of the sky. Then she examined it carefully before possibly concluding it was dead. (Who knows what she thought?)

She didn’t just happen to be holding a branch. “Zoo officials said they (the chimps) armed themselves against the drone,” according to the announcer. Not only Tushi, but also others, brought their stick to where they expected the drone to be.

We’ve known about Chimpanzees’ tool use for procuring food for a few years. They use sticks to probe dead bark for insects, or blades of grass to probe ant or termite hills. More recently they’ve been observed making sharp spears and using them to probe hollow trees for bush babies. Occasionally they throw a stick or rock.

This one just didn’t like that flying thing buzzing around and decided to do something about it. The $2,000 drone was destroyed.



The crafty larger pacific striped octopus

The larger pacific striped octopus

The larger Pacific striped octopus has not been studied much or even described scientifically, so it has no scientific name yet; but it is proving to be an interesting critter. Caldwell, Huffard, and colleagues reported August 12 in PLOS ONE that these creatures in their lab behave differently from other octopuses in many ways.

Octopuses eat a lot of crustaceans. The larger pacific striped octopus is no exception in this regard. It’ll pounce on a crab and rip it apart with its tentacles and beak. But not so with a shrimp. This octopus plays schoolyard tricks on shrimps.

When a hungry larger pacific striped octopus comes upon a shrimp, it stands a little bit apart so the shrimp won’t notice it. Then it stretches out one tentacle and sneaks it over the shrimp to tap the prey on its shell, like a schoolboy playing a prank on a friend. But this is no prank; it startles the shrimp into running directly into the waiting arms of the predator.

Females live longer

Another unusual thing is that a female of this species keeps on living after guarding her eggs until they hatch. In most octopus species, a female tends her eggs constantly, refusing to even eat or mate for many months until the eggs hatch. Then she dies of exhaustion and starvation. I always felt sorry for those octopus mothers, though they may feel fulfilled as they fizzle out. Who knows? Not so the female of the larger pacific striped octopus. She lives on to produce more eggs.

Sex is different, too. They do it face to face, beak to beak, all tangled up together. Other kinds do it  couple of different ways.

In all octopuses, the male sex organ is one of his arms. Always the same one. He places sperm into the female with the tip of one tentacle. But it’s how they do this that’s different. One species, for example, mates from a distance:

In an Indonesian octopus species, Caldwell’s former student Christine Huffard of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered males hunkered in their dens sending an arm across the seafloor into the den of the female next door.

She’s maybe a yard away from him, hidden all alone in her own private little den made of pebbles, sand, or a shell. This method doesn’t seem to do much for her. In fact, she seems to get bored with it sometimes.

On occasion, such females leave their dens on some octopus errand, dragging the male along by his mating arm.

No wonder. It’s “you stay in your room, I’ll stay in mine, and I’ll hand you a packet of sperm under the door.” Maybe he’d be better off bringing her chocolate and flowers.

larger pacific striped octopus

Larger pacific striped octopuses mate above. The darker one on the right is male; the lighter on the left, female.

Larger pacific striped octopuses not only mate face to face, but they match up all eight tentacles as they do so, as if they want as much skin contact as they can get. Some of them even share a den for a day or two afterward, which is highly unusual for such solitary animals as octopuses. And a female with a clutch of eggs will sometimes turn her back on them long enough to mate again.

These are fascinating animals that deserve much more study, a scientific name, and a shorter, snappier common name than “larger pacific striped octopus.”



Gruesome but amazing behaviour of Eleonora’s falcon

Eleonora’s falcon
Eleonora’s falcon

Gruesome but amazing falcon behaviour

From Professor Jerry Coyne’s website, Why Evolution Is True, this post by Matthew Cobb tells of some gruesome but practical behavior by a population of Eleonora’s falcon off the coast of Morocco.

It seems this hawk captures smaller birds for her chicks, but doesn’t kill them immediately. Instead, she imprisons them alive until they are needed for food. Click the link above to let Professor Cobb tell the story.

Incidentally, I recommend Why Evolution Is True for liberal, skeptical readers with a wide range of interests. It’s on my daily reading list. And his book of the same name is one of the best books I’ve read for presenting the evidence for evolution.



If at First You Don’t Succeed

Try, try again. And again. And then some more, until you succeed.

That  was all I said when I first posted this, but then I watched it again. We can learn more from our little cousin than that.  

Not only does she keep on and on and on. She finally seems to realize that leaping with the cracker, as she’s been trying to do, is not going to work. That’s better than many people, already.

So she stops, climbs up on top, looks around, and seems to think. “Oh, now I see!” She jumps back down and does it right, by climbing instead of trying to jump with the cracker. And it works.

Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath, look around, and see what we’ve been doing wrong. Then maybe we can figure out how to do the job right, like this little mouse did.

Yeah, I know. I’ve anthropomorphized the little creature, and probably given her credit for too much brain power. But, at the very least, she tried new ways and she never stopped until she finally got it right. 

Wild Dolphin Asks Divers for Help

It was entangled in fishing line and had a hook embedded in its pectoral fin. It was so entangled in fishing line that it couldn’t move or swim properly. (I say “it” because I have no idea whether this dolphin was male or female.) It was in trouble and needed help.

If this is real — and it looks real to me — a wild dolphin in trouble seems to actually ask a human diver for help. Thankfully, this particular diver was both able and willing to provide that help.

The dolphin seems to know humans are potentially dangerous, but also that we might be able to help it. It ignores the manta rays, which have neither the intelligence to know it is in trouble nor (probably) the compassion to care. It seems to come in slowly toward the man. Cautiously. But it has little choice, because it will probably die without help.

It first swims slowly past the diver, twisting and turning as if to show the man its predicament. Then it comes back and stays as long as possible while the man works to remove the entangling fishing line — until it has to return to the surface for air.

Even then, it returns for more help and lets the diver poke and prod its body as he removes more fishing line and frees its range of motion. But eventually the dolphin swims away with the hook still in its flesh.

Why did it swim away before the rescue was complete? I have no idea. Maybe removing the fish-hook hurt too much. Maybe it could no longer control its fear of the icky humans. Figuring out why humans do what we do is difficult enough; reading the mind of a cetacean is even riskier.

Regardless, it seems to me this is one more in a long line of incidents showing how intelligent and sentient some non-human animals are.