Tag Archives: cognition

Great Minds (Don’t Always) Think Alike: Recognising Animal Intelligence

Image Credit: jans canon, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Baldrick: I have a plan, sir.

Blackadder: As cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?

Baldrick: Yes, sir.

Even if you’re not familiar with the British classic Blackadder, if you’re an English speaker the expression “cunning as a fox” will need no explanation. Our fascination (or in some cases disregard for) the intelligence of animals, and our comparison of animals to our own levels of intelligence, have been a part of language for centuries.

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Bee-st

There’s no two ways about it – bees are pretty darn smart. The knowledge that they are able to communicate the location of food sources to hive mates through a series of movements (a little dance if you will) is pretty well known. It turns out not only are they capable of complex communication – they also have some mathematical capabilities! Talk about top of the class!

Read more: Numerical cognition in honeybees enables addition and subtraction

Although other animals such as monkeys and even spiders have the capacity to think of things in terms of relative quantities (identifying larger or smaller amounts), bees are actually able to grasp more complex arithmetic such as addition and subtraction. Here researchers used colours to associate with either adding (blue) or subtracting (yellow) and found that bees could not only grasp these concept and but also solve mathematical problems! This means that they could learn, remember, and execute this basic arithmetic. It does bring up the question how many other animals are capable of grasping complex concepts if given the chance?


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Taken For a Ride

This parasitic fungus takes over the brain and then ejects its spores out of the ant’s head (Image Credit: Erich G. Vallery, USDA Forest Service – SRS-4552, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0 US)

Mind Control: How Parasites Manipulate Cognitive Functions in Their Insect Hosts (2018) Libersat et al., Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00572

The Crux

The field of neuro-parasitology is a relatively new field in biology and deals with the study of parasites that manipulate the nervous system of their hosts for their own gain (usually at the expense of the host). The authors of this review focused on host-parasite interactions between insect hosts and their myriad of parasites, due not only to most studies in this field being done with insects, but also the fact that most animals on the planet are in fact insects.

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