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There is no tree of intelligence: Crocodiles use tools

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From Scientific American,

As described by Dinets et al. (2013), Mugger crocodiles Crocodylus palustris in India and American alligators Alligator mississippiensis in the USA have both been observed to lie, partially submerged, beneath egret and heron colonies with sticks balanced across their snouts. Birds approach to collect the sticks for use in nest building and… well, let’s just say that it doesn’t end well for the birds. If the crocodylians really are using the sticks as bait to attract their bird prey, this is tool use, since the sticks are objects that are being employed for a specific function.

Of course, that just means that the ‘gators are doing the same thing as birds: using sticks. But as lures, not nests.

A traditional theory denied that the “reptilian brain” was capable of such feats, but it is better recognized today that life forms use different parts of their brains differently. Anoles proved as smart as tits (birds) in a problem-solving test for a food reward. But they don’t need much food.

If humans don’t use the parts of our brain equivalent to those of reptiles for strategic planning, it’s most likely because we don’t need to. Reptiles use what they have. 

And as noted earlier,

Too much effort is focused on trying to discover a continuum of intelligence leading all the way up to humans. Humans are just different, period. Octopuses are smarter than people think, but they do not build or program computers.

Alligators are smarter than most people think too, but they don’t solve equations or give to charity.

The reasons some animals have and others don’t have intelligence, in the same basic groups of life forms, pursued as a project in its own right, might yield more understanding of what intelligence is.

To say nothing of how it arises.

See also: On alligator and other reptile parenting. Yes, that’s what we said, parenting. About ‘gator intelligence in general, here.

One Reply to “There is no tree of intelligence: Crocodiles use tools

  1. 1
    anthropic says:

    Having owned an alligator and a crocodile when I was much younger, I can say this much: gators are far more docile. It is possible to have some sort of relationship with a gator. Crocs, on the other hand – and you will need another hand if you try petting them — are extremely aggressive.

    There’s a reason why you see gator wrestlers, but not crocodile wrestlers.

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