Animals may be extremely well-organized and insanely ballsy, but we'll always have one giant advantage over them: our intelligence. Also, cars and rocket launchers and such.
But thinking is what makes us human, and thinking means we'll always be the ruling species on this planet, because the rest of those guys are really stupid. Well ... not all of them. So, in our latest attempt to make all of our readers afraid of Mother Nature, we give you ...
6. Alex the Genius Parrot
When a parrot says something like "hi", "I love you" or "f@#% off", you obviously assume that it doesn't really know what it's saying -- they're just mimicking human words in the same way that they'd copy the sound of a barking dog, or even (as some parrot owners know) a cell phone ringing. They're just like shitty tape recorders.
Alex the Parrot was different, though: he could correctly identify 50 different shapes, recognize numbers up to six, distinguish seven colors, and understand qualities such as bigger, smaller, same, and different. By the end of his life, he was getting closer to grasping the concept of nothingness.
Alex didn't just associate a word with a specific object: he could generalize, which is usually something only humans can do. For example, when shown various keys, he could recognize that they were the same thing and even point out differences in size and color. If you still don't think that's impressive, take a look at this video of Alex interacting with his trainer, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, and try not to freak out when he asks her for some water:
Holy shit, that bird behaves more like a human than half the people we saw on the subway this morning. It's almost like he stepped out of a Pixar movie. One day, as Dr. Irene was closing up the lab, Alex said goodbye by telling her to "be good." Irene replied by saying "I love you," to which Alex answered, "I love you too." He then asked: "You'll be in tomorrow?" Irene assured him that, yes, he'd see her tomorrow.
The next morning, Alex was d**d.
They actually had conversations like that all the time (you can see a similar one here, at around 7:55). You can say that he was just faking his banter and emotions through years and years of social repetition, but at what point can't you say the same thing about humans? You only know to jokingly tell someone to "be good" when they head out for the night because you heard somebody else say it and remembered it.
Dr. Pepperbeg has taught some of Alex's tricks to other parrots, but so far none of them has displayed anything close to his freakish level of intelligence. So far, it looks like he was one of a kind. Maybe the specific circumstances of Alex's upbringing turned him into the only parrot capable of higher cognitive thought processes... or maybe he was a member of some sort of parrot-like alien race, who came to Earth seeking refuge and friendship. Ask yourself: which explanation is simpler and less creepy?
5. Bees That Solve Complex Math Problems Better than Humans
The traveling salesman problem is all about finding the shortest route between various points, like a salesman who has to visit several houses and doesn't want to spend more gas than he has to. The problem is a lot harder than it sounds: depending on the number of locations and the distance between them, it can take a supercomputer several days to figure it out, since they have to go through and verify every single possibility.
Bees, however, can solve it in a heartbeat. How? No idea, they just can. When researchers showed them a bunch of artificially controlled flowers, the foraging bees took one look at the place and were instantly able to figure out the shortest route between them.
Yes, their tiny, almost nonexistent brains were able to calculate all the variables and solve the problem faster than a computer would. Apparently, it's just a matter of instinct: foraging bees have to visit lots of flowers every day, and since flying is a pretty energy-consuming task for them, they need to be able to know the shortest route in order to survive. So if a salesman can't do the same thing, it's obviously because he doesn't want it hard enough.
What's disturbing is that the exact method bees are using to accomplish this is still a complete mystery to us. Really, we have no idea how they do it, and perhaps it's time we started asking ourselves: What else do they know?
4. Willow the Literate Dog
In 2009 viewers of shows like Tyra or The Today Show were introduced to Willow, a dog who can read, an ability which puts her at a superior intellectual level than most people watching the shows she appeared in. Willow can understand the cards her owner holds up and obey the commands written on them.
But that's an obvious parlor trick, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out, training a dog how to read is not as hard as you might imagine. Some experts point out that what Willow does isn't technically reading (in the way that humans read), but she can still recognize the shapes of words and understand what they mean (wait -- if that's not reading, then apparently we've been doing it wrong).
Also, if you watch the videos we linked to before, you'll notice that the typeset printed on the cards is completely different on each occasion ...
... meaning that Willow is responding to the words themselves, not the cards.
She's not the only one who can do that: this website offers complete instructions on how to teach your dog to read. The article points out that dogs who are learning to read sometimes mix up similar words like "TUG" and "TURN" (so they can recognize individual letters), and that there's no known limit for the amount of words the canine brain can remember. Some dogs are up to 30 words, meaning they could memorize the entire lyrics to "You Should Be Dancing" by the Bee-Gees.
And this is where it gets scary: the author of that article says that after she's taught her dog enough words, she plans to "place multiple words on the wall and teach him to focus on a single card through use of a laser pointer or similar device. Then, I would see if he could match words into simple sentences to tell me what he was thinking or feeling." So giving dogs access to the power of the written word isn't enough; we also have to equip them with lasers so they can express themselves.
3. Michael the Painting Gorilla
OK, so teaching an animal how to paint isn't that impressive: this elephant was trained to paint a picture of an elephant holding a gigantic rose (or perhaps a miniature elephant holding a regular rose), but he's still dumb as a house. He's just moving his trunk in the way he was trained, which is why all his pictures look the same. Common sense dictates that only humans can produce art that is original and expressive.
But common sense is d**d wrong: according to experts, you can teach some animals how to be creative. Gorillas in particular are pretty good at that, as long as they have been trained to communicate with humans through sign language -- if you stick a brush in their hands, get them to paint something, and ask them what it is, sometimes their answers will surprise you. Take Michael, a gorilla, and the author of this painting called "Apple Chase": OK, shit, that looks nothing like an apple... But did we mention that Michael used to own a pet dog called Apple? One who looked like this:
And did we mention that Apple was deceased at the time Michael made this painting? So not only did Michael reproduce the image of the dog from memory (choosing those colors himself), he also named it "Apple Chase" because he used to love playing chase with the dog. He expressed his emotional anguish over Apple's d**th by painting a beautiful picture of his beloved friend. Also, did we mention that he was an ape and had a pet? That's crazy.
Another time, Michael was asked to paint a bouquet of flowers and he made this:
... but we're actually not sure if that's supposed to be a heart or the firm red buttocks of another ape. Either way it's pretty impressive, and kinda hot.
2. Rio the Logical Sea Lion
Humans are logical animals, despite YouTube's comments section best efforts to prove otherwise. If you're at a stop light and you see the intersecting light turn yellow, you'll start revving up your engine as you prepare to go forward. That's logical thinking in action: You know that if a light is yellow then it's about to turn red, and you also know that if a light is red then the other one is green, so you automatically associate the yellow light with going forward. You're making a logical leap, something no other animal is able to do, which is why bears suck so much at driving.
Rio lived at the University of California at Santa Cruz and was known for being smarter than other sea lions. Perhaps feeling threatened by her intelligence (even though "smarter than other sea lions" doesn't sound that impressive, to be frank) a couple of scientists decided to perform an experiment to find out exactly how smart she was.
First they showed Rio a picture of two things: a crab and a tulip. Then they showed her another picture of the same tulip and a radio. They wanted to see if Rio could associate the crab with the radio... and surprisingly, she did. This is called forward transitivity, and it's something no other animal had been able to do up to then.
Rio even managed to do backwards transitivity, that is, she was capable of associating the elements in reverse order, too. That might not sound especially hard to you, but then again you aren't a sea lion. They tested Rio with 90 different shapes (30 in each category) and tried to see if she could go back and forth between them. She aced the test.
Oh, and here's the best part. They tested her again 10 years later, just for kicks, and she still remembered everything she learned in the original experiment. Shit, we can't even remember what the previous entry on this article was about.
1. Thinking Mold
Slime molds are fungus-like organisms that use spores to reproduce, and though they don't technically classify as fungus, they're still not that different from the stuff that magically appears on your bathroom walls if you're not really into that whole "hygiene" thing. And that's why it's so creepy that a specific type of slime mold, the Physarum polycephalum, has been known to display intelligence ... despite not having a brain.
In an experiment a specimen of polycephalum was subjected to a cold, dry environment for ten minute periods every hour. When the scientists stopped exposing it to the cold, they found out that the mold had learned the pattern and would collect itself every one hour ... anticipating the hostile conditions.
In another experiment, Hungarian and Japanese scientists tried to get polycephalum to solve a maze by placing food on both sides. It didn't just beat that shit; it also did it in the most efficient way possible. The mold's killer maze-solving technique means that not only is it capable of learning -- it could use teach us a thing or two.
For example, another experiment exposed the slime mold to some cornflakes that were arranged in a way that represented Tokyo and 36 surrounding cities, just to see which path it would take to travel around them. When the plolycephalum was released, it created a network that eerily resembled the Tokyo subway system. Holy shit!
OK, so what do we know: It has the ability to adapt to its surroundings. It knows its way around Japan. It's smarter than most of us. Yeah, it's not that hard to guess how this will end.