10 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know about Animals
Myths and mysteries make the fascinating, but even odd creatures ought to be understood. We explore a few recent findings, common misconceptions and amazing adaptations.
Learn the truth about elephant minds, how one creature finds 29 hours in a day, and the real reason crocodiles bellies are full of stones.
Editor’s Note: This article, originally published in 2007, was updated in March 2016 to reflect recent research and new information.
1. Parrot Talk More than Just Squawking
Parrot speech is commonly regarded as the brainless squawking of a feathered voice recorder. But studies over the past 30 years continually show that parrots engage in much more than mere mimicry. Parrots are capable of logical leaps and can solve certain linguistic processing tasks as deftly as 4-6 year-old children. Parrots appear to grasp concepts like “same” and “different,” “bigger” and “smaller”, “none” and numbers. They understand zero Perhaps most interestingly, they can combine labels and phrases in novel ways. A January 2007 study in Language Sciences suggests using patterns of parrot speech learning to develop artificial speech skills in robots.
2. Elephants Do Forget, but They’re Not Dumb
Elephants have the largest brain — nearly 11 pounds on average — of any mammal that ever walked the earth. Do they use that gray matter to the fullest? Intelligence is hard to quantify in humans or animals, but the encephalization quotient (EQ), a ratio of an animal’s observed brain size to the expected brain size given the animal’s mass, correlates well with an ability to navigate novel challenges and obstacles. The average elephant EQ is 1.88. (Humans range from 7.33 to 7.69, chimpanzees average 2.45, pigs 0.27.) Intelligence and memory are thought to go hand in hand, suggesting that elephant memories, while not infallible, are quite good.