8 of the Animal Kingdom’s Most Clever Problem Solvers

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ThinkStock

Who ever said Mr. Fix-it had to be human?

1. Crows Make Dining Utensils

They say humans are toolmakers, but crows may be just as handy. The birds are known to pry out grubs buried inside trees with twigs. They’ll then strip off the twig’s bark and bend the end, turning it into a hook to dig out food. (Humans are the only other animals that use hooks!)

2. Hyenas Are Brilliant Teammates

To test whether hyenas were team players, researchers built a rig with two dangling ropes. When both ropes were yanked at the same time, a trap door opened, revealing a stash of food. Not only did hyenas work together to pull the ropes, they did it without training (monkeys, on the other hand, needed lots of help from humans to pass the test). Experienced hyenas even taught rookies in their pack how to do it.

3. Bees Are Efficient Architects

Honeycombs are the most efficient structures in nature. They use the least amount of wax for their size, and the hexagonal design makes the structure amazingly strong. It took humans over 2000 years of puzzling to figure that out!

4. Cows Celebrate a Job Well Done

Research shows that cows can feel emotions like fear and anxiety (and they even worry about the future). Cows also love to fix problems. A 2004 study found that when young cows solve problems, their heart rates increase. They even jump and kick when arriving at a solution—telltale signs that cows love having Eureka moments as much as we do.

5. Clark’s Nutcrackers Are Nature’s Traveling Salesmen

Pretend it’s errand time. You have to visit the supermarket, the pharmacy, and three other stores. All five are at separate locations. What’s the most efficient way to get to each one? Mathematicians call this “the traveling salesman problem,” and it’s harder than you think—it can even stump our best computers. However, it’s a snap for Clark’s Nutcrackers. Each year, these birds collect thousands of pine nuts and bury them in small stashes. When they return to pick up the goodies, not only do they remember where everything is, they can also calculate the fastest route to get them.

6. Pigs Rock at Video Games

When scientists built a snout-controlled game in which pigs had to move a shape across a computer screen and match it with a corresponding shape, they were naturals—they even performed better than some monkeys. Pigs are so smart that European regulators require pig farmers to provide “mentally-stimulating activity” for their swine (boredom makes pigs aggressive), and researchers designed a special video game to keep European pigs busy.

7. Parrots Are Feathered Linguists

Parrots aren’t capable of language, but they are good at imitating it. A parrot named Alex actually learned 100 English words, many of which he picked up without the motivation of food. Amazingly, Alex was able to make up words, too (he called apples “Banerries”—a blend of bananas and cherries). One time, when another parrot mispronounced a word, Alex yelled, “Talk clearly!”

8. Pigeons Make For Great Game Show Contestants

When researchers mapped the brain of pigeons, they discovered the areas for long-term memory and problem solving were wired just like a human’s. Pigeons are also better at game shows than us—studies show that pigeons play Monty Hall at a significantly higher success rate than humans.

A Same-Sex Penguin Couple Has Adopted an Egg at a Berlin Zoo

LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images
LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images

At first glance, king penguins Skip and Ping don’t appear to be too remarkable a sight when viewed by spectators at their enclosure at Germany's Zoo Berlin. But look closer and you may see one of them nurturing an egg under one of their skin folds. Skip and Ping, a same-sex penguin couple, have effectively adopted an egg and hope to raise it as their own baby.

A story by writer Liam Stack in The New York Times details their pursuit of parenthood. According to Stack, the penguins arrived at Zoo Berlin in April and were observed to have a degree of baby fever, trying to coddle everything from a rock to a fish. Taking note of their coupling, zookeepers passed on an unhatched egg laid by a female at the zoo. They immediately took to it, taking protective measures and growing ornery when employees got too close. Ping has taken to sitting on the egg in the hopes it will hatch.

That’s not guaranteed. Zookeepers aren't certain whether the egg was fertilized. If it is, it’s likely to crack open in early September, giving Skip and Ping an opportunity to expand their family.

Earlier this year, a same-sex penguin pair named Sphen and Magic began rearing a chick in Australia’s Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The doting parents sang to and fed their adoptive offspring.

[h/t The New York Times]

Airlines Are No Longer Allowed to Ban Service Dogs Based on Breed

chaivit/iStock via Getty Images
chaivit/iStock via Getty Images

As the species of service and emotional support animals have become more diverse, airlines have had to make some tough decisions. Birds, monkeys, and snakes have been barred from boarding airplanes with passengers, but even more conventional pets like dogs have been rejected based on their breed. A new rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) aims to change that. As Travel + Leisure reports, the agency now forbids airlines from discriminating against service dogs of particular breeds, including pit bulls.

Last year, Delta banned all pit bulls from flying, regardless of whether or not they were certified therapy animals. United Airlines also banned pit bulls last year, along with 20 other dog breeds, including pugs, bulldogs, mastiffs, and shih tzus.

Under the new DOT guidelines, these policies are no longer legal. The statement reads: "The Department’s Enforcement Office views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation. The Enforcement Office intends to use available resources to ensure that dogs as a species are accepted for transport."

The new rule applies specifically to service animals, or animals that have been trained to perform a job that's essential to their owner's wellbeing. Emotional support animals, which don't require special training and aren't covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, don't qualify.

Even if a pet is a certified service animal, airlines still have the right to reject them in certain cases. Air travel companies can request documents related to an animal's vaccination, training, or behavior history. If they find anything in the papers that indicates they're not safe to fly, airlines can turn them away on that basis.

In the same statement, the Department of Transportation clarifies which species of service animals should be allowed on flights. Miniature horses are now included on the list of service animals airlines must allow to fly, while ferrets, rodents, snakes, reptiles, and spiders are the only species airlines can ban outright.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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