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Animal Intelligence - information, images, and videos.

India brotherbear Offline
Grizzly Enthusiast

The thing about bears that perhaps fascinates people the most is their remarkable intelligence. They are the most intelligent native nonhuman animals in North America, and many modern bear biologists accredit them with the equivalent IQ of the great apes, some even dare give them the equivalent intelligence of a 3-year-old human.

Now, this isn't very remarkable by our standards, because 3-year-olds aren't very smart, and certainly can't theoretically formulate the existence of undetectable black holes and dark matter, or engineer interstellar spacecraft, but how much of a difference in brain structure or intelligence does such a leap in cognitive ability require? ...When it all comes down to it, pretty much just a few extra ounces of neural tissue on the outer layer of the cerebrum. That, along with the acquired knowledge of our forefathers, and the will, explorative curiosity and fascination and determination to discover and unravel new mysteries. ...that's what separates the mind of a three year old, a bear, an ape or a dolphin from the mind of Steven Hawking or Albert Einstein.

...far greater a difference and advancement in cogition is the difference between an autonomic brain that only serves as an organ of controlling basic bodily function, like that of an aurthropod or lesser vertebrate, or that of a sophisticated brained mammal with the capacity for subjective emotion and basic reasoning and understanding of simple concepts. These are abilities that most large-brained carnivores and primates share, and we should all feel kinship towards each other as common kin in this ability.

When it comes to loving animals, it can be easy to have a bit of a bias in admiring the more brainy animals. This can be due to a natural human feeling of incontendedness in the laid down scientific dogma that humans are extremely unique and alone on Earth. It just doesn't evolutionarily make sense. We didn't just evolve from nothing, all the mammals are related to us in some way, they're our cousins, and all of our brains must share at least some basic similarity in function and capacity. Where else would our capabilities have originated from? There is no reasonable denying that the evolutionary development of our modern brains stems from common roots; in the level of sophisticated higher brain functioning that many of our close mammalian relatives share.

...So now we shall explore the intelligence of one of the 'brainiest' of the mammals, the bears. 
...I wish I had better documented sources for all of these facts and anecdotal info, but all I can say is that it comes mostly from things found in the writings by Ben Kilham, Steven Stringham, Charlie Russell, and Lynn Rogers. All of it is as true as their words. So enjoy!


here is an excerpt form Lynn Rogers' overview of bear intelligence:

Black Bears:

-Large brain compared to body size. 
-One of the more intelligent mammals.

-Navigation ability superior to humans.

-Excellent long-term memory.

-Can generalize to the simple concept level.

"Bears may be the most intelligent of the North American mammals according to their brain structure, the experience of animal trainers, and tests at the Psychology Department of the University of Tennessee. Grizzly bear mothers spend 1½ to 3½ years showing their cubs where and how to obtain food. The cubs’ ability to form mental maps and remember locations may exceed human ability."

Ben Kilham says bears have intelligence comparable to that of the great apes.

A biologists in British Columbia that has studied bears for 20 years estimates their intelligence to be at about the same level as a 3-year-old human.

Famous bear trainer Doug Seuss claims that his brown bear Bart must have been at least as intelligent as a chimpanzee, and according to him Bart wasn't even an extraordinarily intelligent individual as far as brown bears went.


-Bears using sticks, branches, etc, to scratch themselves

-Bears picking up and throwing objects such as rocks during play, sometimes at random, sometimes aiming at each other (!!!)

-Polar Bears throwing chunks of ice at walruses to bludgeon them and knock them out

-other more complex usage of tools has been allegedly observed before in bears, for instance, Doug Seuss's kodiak grizzly Bart picked up and carried a wooden board to a thorny bramble set it down over it, and used it as a 'bridge' to walk over the thorny bramble safely so he could get to a coke can he found in the middle of it.

-During Charlie Russell's bear co-existence study in Kamchatka, a wild mother brown bear named "Brandy" would sometimes leave her cubs behind with Charlie, and then go off by herself to forage, using Charlie as a "babysitter" for her cubs. ...does this qualify as bears using humans as tools? it's a bit of a leap, but worth mentioning...


-It is not known wether bears are capable of having self-awareness, such a capacity is very iffy, about 75% of chimps can recognize their reflection in a mirror, but 25% never figure it out. Self-awareness is no absolute or certain capability, and it is so strange that there is no real certainty that an animal is actually thinking "Hey! I'm an animal! How cool is that!" When was the last time you thought that? It's true, I swear, go look in a mirror...

-in cases in which bears see their reflection, the reaction at first is usually being frightened at it or swatting at it with a paw, but sometimes bears also appear to be mystified and fascinated with their reflection, sometimes staring at it with curiosity for long periods of time or licking and biting at the reflective surface to test its substance. Does this mean they're figuring out that it's not another bear but perhaps their own reflection? Do they ever think "Hey! I'm a bear, How cool is that!" There's no way anyone can know this for certain so there's not even any point in discussing it.


-many people have witnessed bears in the wild partaking in unusual behavior such as sitting still for long periods of time in one spot doing apparently nothing but staring at scenic vistas such as sunsets, lakes and mountains. There is very little explanation as to what use or purpose is in this behavior except in theorizing that the bears merely find such views to be aesthetic and "beautiful".


-In some cases bears care for each other, especially mothers for their cubs and siblings for each other. They will risk their lives, even fight to the death defending their own cubs or siblings from danger in some cases.

-bears do grieve for others, bear cubs wail when hunters shoot their mothers in front of them, and will moan and cry for weeks afterward in apparent grief. Although they may emotionally recover faster than humans do, they are not without love and altruism for others, and are deeply hurt, perhaps for life, when someone dear to them is taken away.


Is any of this true or for certain? Can any of it be firmly proven by science? It can't be said, and probably can't be proven or certified in the mind of any objectively rational scientist. It might even be redundant and pointless to speculate all of this, as intelligence is such an immensely complex, multifaceted realm that we still know very, very little about, I don't want to be misleading anyone here. Intelligence is certainly NOT something that can just be measured like body temperature, and an IQ number is just totally irrelevant. Some people might even say that most animals are "smarter" than us, because there are so many things about life they know about that we have forgotten, and so many things we can't understand or comprehend that they can. Bears can't compose rap music or invent an atomic bomb, but they can create mental maps better than we can. In what other ways would they surprise us if we could truly peer into their minds? When it all comes down to it, when all of this is put into consideration, how can anyone measure something as immeasurable as intelligence so rashly? Do we even have any idea what intelligence really is?
...Are we not just dumb animals ourselves, a bunch of cranium-scratching primates still trying to figure all of this out? Perhaps the only one that really has his mind around things is a force greater and higher than all of us...
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India brotherbear Offline
Grizzly Enthusiast
Social carnivores aren’t smarter—it’s all in the relative brain size
Despite their bulk, bears are the champion puzzle solvers.

JOHN TIMMER - 1/28/2016, 12:07 PM

Animal intelligence varies widely. Some have cognitive abilities that were once thought to be limited to humans, while others seem to act purely on instinct. It's not simply a matter of having large brains; birds don't have especially large ones, but they can master complicated problems or learn the solution from others in their social network.

So what can explain animal intelligence? One general trend that has been noted is that the size of the brain relative to the rest of the body seems to matter. Birds may not have big brains on an absolute scale, but their brains are relatively large compared to their body mass. Others have also noted that lots of the animals we consider smart seem to operate in social groups. These include birds, primates, elephants, and dolphins.

A new study looks at problem-solving across a wide range of carnivores and finds mixed support for these ideas. Belonging to a social group didn't seem to make a difference, but having a large brain to body ratio did. The surprising (or perhaps worrying) thing is that the brain to body ratio was high in some of the biggest carnivores tested: bears. 

The approach used here was simple, if limited. Researchers had devised a metal puzzle box that they could put food into. They took versions of this box, scaled for animal size, to zoos, where they handed it over to 140 different carnivores, which collectively represented 39 different species from nine families. They then tracked how long the individuals took to solve the problem (if they did at all), along with a variety of other measurements. Over all, 23 of the species represented managed to solve the problem at least once, with 35 percent of the individuals being successful.

Within that average, however, were some clear winners and losers. Befitting their reputation for having a "will do anything to get food" attitude, 70 percent of the bears managed to solve the problem, an average brought down by the southeast Asia's sun bear, the smallest of the lot. Raccoons and their kin also performed well, with half of them successful; weasels of various sorts managed just under half. When looking for smarts, however, you can skip the mongooses, which completely failed to get at the food even once.

(Enigmatically, nine animals managed to open the box but didn't bother to take the food inside it. Eliminating these cases did not change the results.)

One of the striking things about that is that the mongooses were a social species. Other social species (like wolves) did reasonably well, but in the end, it was a wash: social species had no advantage in this test. Rating the species for manual dexterity, which might make the task easier, showed no correlation.
What did matter was the brain size relative to body mass. You'd think something as large as a bear might need an enormous brain to compensate, but that's apparently not the case. The authors tested the volumes of some individual brain regions but found none of them showed a statistically significant connection to the success of the animal. And the weak correlation between absolute brain size and success wasn't significant when relative brain size was taken into account.

These findings are in keeping with a number of past studies outside the carnivores. It also makes sense in terms of a general trend among the carnivores: there's no relationship between relative brain size and a tendency toward forming social groups among these animals.

There are a number of limitations to this study. As the authors note, they're testing a small number of animals and subjecting them to only one test—they're not capturing all the dimensions of intelligence. But within the limits, the experiments were remarkably thorough. Zoos can also have very different environments and enrichment programs, which could affect these outcomes, but the authors included a variable that tracked the zoo in their statistical model and found it had no predictive value.

Still, the results raise some questions about the relationship between intelligence and social interactions. And some of the researchers are testing the puzzle against carnivores in the wild, which could help avoid some of these limits.

PNAS, 2015. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1505913113 (About DOIs).

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MisterAlex wrote:
Did they record/publish any footage of the animals at work? I'd love to watch them "figuring out" the puzzle box. I wonder how complex it was.
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United States Kingtheropod Offline
Bigcat Expert
( This post was last modified: 02-14-2017, 11:41 AM by Kingtheropod )

This is the most amazing video of animal intelligence I've seen, must watch.

Dog escapes from cage by learning how to open door, then helps other dogs escape...

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United Kingdom Sully Offline
Ecology & Rewilding

From: Big brains, low densities

"Our results show that brain size explains variation in population density among species, with big-brained mammals occurring at lower population densities. We found no evidence that “being smart” compensates for the increased costs of a big brain, although it likely does in some groups, like humans. We, humans have used our big brains to maximize exploitation of resources and overcome the finite energy limitation of an area by manipulating the limits and widely importing resources across sites. On the other hand, for our closest relatives, primates, big brains are costly and linked to lower population densities.

We also found specialized diets are directly linked to lower population densities and generally, there was an effect of total body size, as expected larger mammals live at lower densities. However, direct links between body size and population density were not always supported, suggesting brain size could be a better, more direct predictor of energy requirements, at least in some groups. An alternative explanation could be that brain size is just a more accurate descriptor of size: brain size varies less across and within adults of one species than body size, but the sensitivity analyses we completed suggest this is not likely the case. 

If big-brained mammals are generally found at lower population densities and lower local abundance increases local extinction risk, this could be bad news. Indeed, we found in another study that big-brained mammals have increased risk of extinction (Gonzalez-Voyer et al., (2016). Big brains have provided evolutionary advantages and may still be useful in modified anthropogenic landscapes (Santini et al., 2019), but they come with costs that ultimately may be too high. Paraphrasing Darwin, this could be survival of the thickest."

Full study: The role of brain size on mammalian population densities
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