Great-tailed grackles are very flexible, quickly learning to associate new cues with food, but new research suggests this doesn’t help them innovate to solve new problems.
Did you hear the one about the drunken monkey? Primates frequently encounter and consume alcohol in their natural environment, most commonly through fermented fruit. But a study published last year showed that some Chimpanzees are actively seeking it out, and have even developed tools to help them access their preferred tipple!
I’ve written before on the topic of animals and recreational drug use. Research has shown that many animals consume alcohol in their diet, from treeshrews drinking alcoholic nectar in Malaysia to Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) drinking fermented berries of the Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schunus terebinthifolius). But deliberate consumption of alcohol – which is, let’s not forget, a poison – is harder to find.
A group of bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, use a clever trick to access prey on the sea floor – they cover their beaks with marine sponges to protect themselves from sharp rocks as they search for food. 30 years after the behaviour was first reported, scientists have now found that individuals improve with practice, peaking just when it matters most.
When we look at other primates, although the similarities are clear, there are also several stark contrasts. Most noticeable, is our gait – humans are the only truly bipedal (upright walking) primates. Bipedality appeared early in human evolution, and may have marked our divergence from Chimpanzees around 6 million years ago. Bipedality had a number of benefits, allowing us to adapt to a new habitat, and freeing up our hands for other tasks, but compromises also had to be made. Changes in the shape of our pelvis, which enabled us to walk upright, also made childbirth considerably more dangerous and complex. Nevertheless, bipedality is thought to have facilitated the marked advances in tool use and gestural communication that are hallmarks of the human condition.