In relentless pursuit of evidence that animals think like people, Science publishes “Do Tayras Plan for the Future?” by Helen Fields (5 August 2011):
Humans buy unripe bananas, then leave them on the kitchen counter. The tayra, a relative of the weasel native to Central and South America, appears to do much the same thing, picking unripe plantains and hiding them until they ripen, according to a new study. The authors speculate that tayras are showing a human-like capacity to plan for the future, which has previously been shown only in primates and birds.
The problem is, the basic behaviour (hiding food until needed later) is actually pretty common among mammals. Squirrels are notorious for it. Are they showing foresight?
Many birds and animals cache food, but most do it with leftovers—food that could be eaten now but isn’t needed. Shrews stash extra insects; squirrels hide nuts. Soley says tayras are different because the unripe plantains aren’t edible yet. “It’s like knowing that it’s going to be food in the future,” Soley says. That means the tayras are thinking about their hunger a few days from now and planning ahead, he and Alvarado-Díaz report in this month’s issue of Naturwissenschaften.
Yes, but the squirrels are thinking about their hunger a few months from now. Do they show more foresight? Longer range planning for the future?
It is difficult to credibly compare the normal behaviour shown by all adult members of a species with a human characteristic that is notoriously individual and variable. Nice try, but … Interesting story though.
File with: Insects have feelings?
Monkeys: Doen’t anyone get tired of this?
A feally smart lizard would conceal the extent of its knowledge …