Thursday, April 10, 2014

PBS: :"Inside Animal Minds: Bird Genius" and then "Your Inner Fish"; birds and fish are indeed like people

PBS aired two important nature specials Wednesday April 9, 2014, at least on WETA in Washington.
One of these was a NOVA subseries, “Inside Animal Minds” called “Bird Genius”.  The documentary showed corvids (crows and jays) learning to solve complex problems to get food.  One of these problems involved using the Archimedes Principle (which I recall from a freshman physics lab).  Dogs were relatively unable to solve the same problem.  One of the animals was the “new Caledonian crow” (from Scotland).
The film showed a chart correlating the ration of brain mass to body mass, and crows and humans have a higher ratio than most other animals.

The film even showed the ability of bee colonies to use geometry to keep track of nectar supplies, and communicate among the workers. 
Crows and ravens are thought to be the smartest of the corvids, but the English equivalent of the blue jay also had similar abilities.  Corvids also make tools from sticks and leaves to probe for food, and can teach the young to do this.  Among mammals, chimpanzees and probably gorillas and some other primates do this.
Corvids seem to be able to learn to recognize and bond to individual people, even in the wild.   

PBS NOVA has a link for the show, which requires the visitor to confirm her local station, here. (Sorry: ther embed for the entire show posted earlier appears to have been put up by an imposter of PBS; it had to be removed.)

There is a crow in the neighborhood that seems to recognize me, even when I am at a shopping center a mile away.  On the day in 2012 of Hurricane Sandy, the crow would chase me back inside (twice) when I went outside from the garage.  Did he sense the storm coming and was he trying to protect me? Crows seem to communicate with us as if they were an alien intelligence, but equal to us. 
Then Neil Shubin hosted “Your Inner Fish”, the beginning of another science series, showing how human limb anatomy goes all the way back to fish, because of a gene that allows the number of bones with each succeeding segment of an appendage to increase while going farther from the center of the body. The primary link is here

I was somewhat reminded of Reid Ewing’s short film “Free Fish” (2012), in which at one point Reid pets and plays with a sting ray (not even a bony fish, more like a shark).  Why is this large primate messing with me?  Then, “I’m done with you.”  But, indeed “fish are like people; when one of them dies, nobody notices.” 

Wikipedia attribution link for New York Aquarium, Coney Island (my last visit, 1990).  Also, Wikipedia attribution link for picture of crow.  

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