Fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy already know that humans are only the third most intelligent species on Earth. Dolphins are the second, and white mice are the first, for obvious reasons. But what animal is the fourth most intelligent, or the fifth? Scientists are making progress finding out.
Biologists in Scotland have been studying the songs of sperm whales and believe whales have names, just like we do. Before they sing, each whale tends to start with a series of tones unique to that whale, as though they’re announcing themselves before they speak. A possible translation could be something like, “This is Bob. I noticed some fish over there. Let’s go get them.” For more on whale names, click here.
Researchers at the University of Michigan say they’ve found evidence that wasps have the ability to recognize each other’s faces. If you ask me, all wasps look the same, but apparently individual paper wasps have subtle differences of facial structure and can recognize each other the same way humans do. This is the first time anyone has discovered human-like behavior in an insect. For more on wasp facial recognition, click here.
Since we already know humans and chimpanzees are related through evolution, it shouldn’t surprise us too much to learn that they display human-like behavior. Yet recent research, again in Scotland, has found that they even share some of our feelings about death. Scientists are a Safari Park observed chimps gathering around the deathbed of a fellow chimp, mourning for it, holding vigils, and caring for the remains after death. For more on chimpanzee death rituals, click here.
These are not the only examples. Squid and cuttlefish change colors and may have their own language (click here). Dolphins, which the Hitchhiker’s Guide already told us are smarter than us, have been observed inventing new tools to help them fish (click here). Crows make tools and communicate as well, and scientists have also observed them playing practical jokes on each other (click here).
By studying animals and finding similarities between their behavior and ours, we are also learning about human intelligence and how it developed. Our ancestors surely began in a similar way. Given time, maybe sperm whales or paper wasps or one of the other species listed here could evolve to our level. Maybe, on some other planet, they already have.