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Lizards Beat Birds In Intelligence Test 104

rhettb writes "Reptiles have long been thought to be dim-witted, but a new study in Biology Letters finds that the Puerto Rican anole, a type of lizard, can match birds in intelligence. Using cognitive tests that have been previously used on birds, researchers with Duke University found that the lizards were capable of solving a problem they've never encountered before, remembering the solution in future trials, and even changing techniques when presented with new challenges. In fact, the tiny anoles solved the test with fewer tries than birds."
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Lizards Beat Birds In Intelligence Test

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  • Misleading Summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by slifox ( 605302 ) * on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @06:35PM (#36755556)
    The article itself points out that the conclusion is NOT that lizards are smarter than birds, but rather that this particular lizard is extremely smart:

    While the study found unexpected cognitive abilities in the lizards, an expert on bird intelligence, Louis Lefebvre with McGill University, says that the study doesn't necessarily mean lizards are smarter than birds since birds still have larger body-to-brain ratios than reptiles. Instead it may mean that anoles are among the most intelligent of the reptiles.

    This study shows that anole lizards are particularly quick learners when it comes to this type of test (quickly learning under which cap the food is located).

    I don't think that speed of learning is necessarily definitely correlated to capacity for learning; it's possible that a parrot might learn more slowly than this lizard, but might still eventually be able to achieve more extensive and higher levels of cognitive processing.

    Certain birds (parrots in particular) actually have the capability to count; have object permanence (understanding that an object still exists even when it is out of range of senses such as sight/smell/etc); have self-awareness (understanding that a mirror is showing an image of themselves, not another animal); construct and utilize tools in indirect arrangements (e.g. use one tool to obtain another tool, which is then used to complete a task); learn by observation; and organize in complex social structures with intricate communication. These are all cognitive abilities that are found in early human childhood development.

    That said, this lizard is pretty cool! I kinda want one now...

    • Yea, I was thinking along the lines as well. Parrot and crow families tend to be very intelligent. I find it hard to believe the Anole is smarter than them. Of course, I am sure some of those would look at the Anole as a tasty morsel, and would win, anyhow.

      • Parrots and Crows may think they're smart, but it takes a lizard to be Anole-Retentive.

      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        I read TFA (really ;-), and noticed that there was no mention of the species of bird. They just claimed that this one species of lizard is as good at solving problems as "birds".

        I've known both pigeons and parakeets, and it's pretty obvious that the little 'keets are a lot more intelligent than the much larger pigeons.

        I wonder how the Puerto Rican anole compares in brain size and body mass with a budgie. I'd guess they might not be very different.

        • They didn't test birds. They did, however, reference several previous studies of behavioural reversal tasks done on birds (pinyon jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, western scrub jays, Zenaida doves, and song sparrows). These studies indicate that the more social a creature is, the more readily it can adapt its behaviour. Similarly, the more complex the environment (especially when it comes to finding food) the more readily a creature can adapt its behaviour. Anoles are neither very social, nor do they h
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      birds still have larger body-to-brain ratios than reptiles

      What does that have to do with anything? The only meaningful measurement of intelligence is problem solving ability.

      • by slifox ( 605302 ) *
        Studies suggest that there is a potential correlation between brain-body size ratio and intelligence. While this link is not definite, it's certainly is somewhat meaningful

        The wikipedia page is a decent place to start for a general overview. []
        • by Hatta ( 162192 )

          Yes, but an empirical determination of intelligence outweighs any attempt to assay intelligence through indirect means such as mass ratios.

        • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

          Studies suggest that there is a potential correlation between brain-body size ratio and intelligence.

          The study is most definitely biased, just look at the fat, arrogant, asshats in DC and you will see that the study is without merit.

          • They get money, fame, power, and women, all without doing anything labourious or meaningful, and you see this as being a sign of lack of intelligence?
            • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

              They get money, fame, power, and women, all without doing anything labourious or meaningful, and you see this as being a sign of lack of intelligence?

              Are all the recall votes in yet? Has the budget been balanced? Are we still at war? Hmmm...all that money, fame, power and yet, they can't get their act together. Survey says...Stupid is as stupid does.

        • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

          The problems is, birds are uber-optimized. They use every trick for weight saving, like hollow bones. So comparing them to other animals is not entirely correct.

    • Certain birds (parrots in particular) actually have the capability to count

      Crows also. Up to seven, as I recall.

      After that, they're at the "many" stage....

      • I've heard of Counting Crows before.
      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        After that, they're at the "many" stage....

        Actually, after that they're at the "murder" stage...

      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        Crows also. Up to seven, as I recall. After that, they're at the "many" stage....

        That's a bigger number than many humans (and a few human societies) can handle.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Unfortunately, more so every day.
          Just the other day, something I bought cost $7.05, and I handed over $12.05. The cashier immediately pushed back the two ones, and then counted out three more ones. From what I could tell, she had a healthy stack of five dollar bills, so apparently, a concept of a difference of five was too complex.

          No, I don't blame calculators. I blame a school system that only rewards parroting and by choice takes away the ability for teachers to reward actual thinking in the fear that

          • by khr ( 708262 )

            From what I could tell, she had a healthy stack of five dollar bills, so apparently, a concept of a difference of five was too complex.

            Did you communicate with her that you were expecting to a five dollar bill back? Or just assuming that she would do that simply because she had what looked like enough? Since it sounds like you probably gave her a 10 and two 1's, she already had part of your $5 change in her hands, so it could've been more work for her to put those in the drawer and then get a bill out of the $5 space, than to simply yank three $1 bills out, and not put more bills back in.

    • I have a 16 year old Green Iguana, who is very socialized and very intelligent.

      My wife, who is an environmental biologist who studied Western Fence Lizards, thinks my Iguana is at least as intelligent as the Cacatuidae birds, but not as smart as True Parrots.

      When he is learning and observing you can tell he needs a few seconds to process, but for things like food and threats he is very crafty and communicates well.

      • by cffrost ( 885375 )

        Will you please elaborate with some anecdotes?

        • Food - if he hasn't had food delivered to his bowl by 11-11.15 am, he will walk out into the kitchen and start clawing at the refrigerator.
          If he is given food he doesn't like, he will nudge the bowl to the edge of his perch, then flip it onto the floor with his foot knowing he will now get new food.

          Defecation - The Iguana is house broken, if for some reason he can't get to where he usually defecates, he will go behind the human toilet on the linoleum, with one exception.
          If I (his original adopter) go away f

    • Thanks for clarifying the misleading title. You rock.

      I happen to be quite partial to birds since my childhood. If you give a bird, even the low-intelligence ones (such as straight-beaked paserine songbirds), something to do that is not sitting in an empty cage for all of its life, you will discover that "bird brained" is a completely false expression.

      However I keep seeing people that refuse to admit that birds are something other than flying poop factories, or "little music boxes" that sit on their cage unt

    • by Ferzerp ( 83619 )

      Perhaps (and this is an unsupported conjecture on my part), the mode of locomotion has created this disparity.

      A bird has more room for error without becoming food (due to the flight aspect) than a lizard. A lizard needs to learn fast or be eaten. I can see how a bird might be able to learn slower (but contain higher potential) without being eaten.

    • Well fuck, and here I thought I would finally get the recognition I deserve. Damn birds....

  • by mswhippingboy ( 754599 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @06:42PM (#36755606)
    I call BS. Everyone knows that the Giecko Gecko is the smartest reptile.
    • Look, dude, it's enough that people confuse "gecko" and "Geico". Now you want to make it even harder by mixing in "Gieco" and "Giecko"???

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I believe I'm in a unique position to opine on this.

      First, of all, it's Geico (i before e, except after c, and also except in acronyms [orginally: Government Employees Insurance COmpany]). Secondly, I'm afraid that that particular fellow is a bit of a sellout. His species is Phelsuma madagascariensis, the Giant Madagascar Day Gecko, but he does not have a Madagascar accent. He had better be careful, lest he be replaced by a CGI gecko.

      Finally, anoles are not particular bright for lizards. I've had some, seve

      • Oh, blah, that was my comment (geckoFeet); I didn't notice I wasn't logged in. So much for lizard intelligence.

    • Kind of Off Topic, but I love this Survivorman commercial. []
  • No octopi? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Qatz ( 1209584 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @06:51PM (#36755708)
    Octopus are also very intelligent quiet possible more so then birds.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I doubt they make their own tools though. Corvidae do. Like bend a wire into a specific hook to be able to pull something out, and similar things.
      They also do things like throw nuts on the street for cars to drive over them, and pick the insides out of the cracked shells when the light is red.

      That's pretty damn smart, and damn close to ape level.

    • Seriously, they managed to build exoskeletons, plant a deadly virus that affects only humans, and invade New York.

  • And a heavy brain is a liability when you try to fly....

    Of course we all know that brain weight alone is not 100% correlated to inteligence, but you see where i am going, right?

    • So is a big stomach, guess that's why birds don't lounge around eating leaves all day.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      It does not correlate at all. The important factor is surface size. Meaning many ripples == brilliant, no ripples = dumb.

      • It does not correlate at all. The important factor is surface size. Meaning many ripples == brilliant, no ripples = dumb.

        That was a very smooth observation.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Brain to body size ratio does correlate with intelligence, just not particularly well for the relatively small variations seen in humans. Surface area does too, with certain constraints.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      That explains Southwest Airline pilots

  • I want to know if a penguin are smarter than a window or an apple!
  • by migla ( 1099771 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @07:01PM (#36755780)

    When asked how they felt about being described as less intelligent than lizards, Polly Parrot replied:
    -"I was flying all the way to the bank."

  • Let me be the first to welcome our Puerto Rican anole overlords.

  • by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @07:07PM (#36755836)

    There are many different kinds of birds. While dodos were extremely stupid, crows are even using tools to solve problems. So to what bird did they compare that lizard? A chicken, an eagle, a duck or an ostrich. We will never know.

    • Those with bird brains I'd guess.
    • While dodos were extremely stupid

      Dodos were not inherently dumb - in spite of their name - they just lacked fear of predators because there were none in their habitat. The same thing happens all over the world; isolated species lose innate fear of potential predators because they don't recognize them as such.

      Your comment on crows is spot on, though. And indeed there is a great variance in bird intellect.

    • We don't know. That is not the same as we will never know. To know we will never know would require first to know, and then also to know the future. So then you already know that you know, so you wouldn't say it. So I'm calling BS on that one.

      We don't know, and in the future we will know much more than we do now.

    • A Duck!

  • considered to be a kind of reptile? (I think I saw that on XKCD.)
    • by ladoga ( 931420 )

      I can't remember arn't birds sometimes considered to be a kind of reptile? (I think I saw that on XKCD.)

      No. Birds are the only currently existing clade of dinosaurs and are warm-blooded while reptiles are cold-blooded.

      • It depends on what definition of "reptile" you're using, and whether you characterize it by properties (cold-bloodedness, scales, etc.) or by phylogenetics (ie. which species evolved from which). It's complicated.

  • BBT (Score:4, Funny)

    by atomicbutterfly ( 1979388 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @08:06PM (#36756552)

    Don't forget - lizard also beats Spock.

  • by jvkjvk ( 102057 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @08:48PM (#36757004)

    That takes a bit of space, and can hardly be determined in term's of todays 'intelligence' tests.

    Perhaps different species have different kinds of 'intelligence', particular to some 'test' as derived from a filter of some "scientist".

    That is, we select which species are "intelligent" dependent upon the type(s) of tests we provide training to.


    • by Theovon ( 109752 )

      Indeed. I've noticed this with regard to IQ in humans. IQ is a useful measure, but it only measures certain things. For instance, it doesn't measure social ability, but social ability is an important cognitive function that is a major part of intelligence.

      • Harry Reid, Joe Biden, GWB and Sarah Palin prove your point!

        Thank you, I'll be here all night.

    • But that doesn't make them intelligent. It just means they have good programming. Intelligence is defined as the ability to think and learn. Birds almost certainly don't think about flying any more than you do about walking.

    • Catching prey requires 3D vision after all. Only a few species of lizards are vegetarian, most are hunters and/or scavengers.
  • I'll bet the testers were lizards!
  • my bird can kick your lizard's ass any time!
  • In the article there is nothing about hiding smell of the worm used from the lizards. These lizards use smell just as much as vision to locate their prey. It'd be easy enough for them to smell the worm under the cap, giving them the advantage of that over the birds that rarely use smell to locate food.
  • Battered Bird Syndrome ?

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.