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The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World's Cleverest Creatures
The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World's Cleverest Creatures The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World's Cleverest Creatures The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World's Cleverest Creatures

* Book Type:

Publisher: Firefly Books

Edition Notes: Revised and Updated
Author Statement: Sally Boysen and Deborah Custance
Audience: Trade
Specs: 275 color iluustrations and photographs, glossary, index
Pages: 192
Trim Size: 8 1/2" X 10 " X 1/2"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20120920
Copyright Year: 2012
Price: Select Below


The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World's Cleverest Creatures

Succinctly written and sumptuously illustrated with photographs and diagrams, this appealing book is sure to fascinate the general reader and inspire the science student considering a career in animal behavior or cognition.
--Library Journal (starred review)

This compelling book is from a world authority in animal intelligence and brings together the cumulative research relating to non-human "smart" species. It reveals how intelligent animals communicate, how they learn behavior, how they show feelings and emotions -- and for some species, how they use tools, count, and pick up a foreign language!

Fully illustrated with photographs and step-by-step graphics, and drawing on data from historical and current experiments and observations, the book examines intelligence in the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans), monkeys, and a surprisingly long list of non-primate species: sea otters, eagles, elephants, dolphins, lions, whales, parrots, honeybees, beetles, rats, woodpeckers, crows, and dogs.

The book's chapters are:

  • Comparing Animal Skills and Intelligence -- with each other and with humans
  • Animal Tool Use -- in nature, in captivity, environmental adaptation
  • Communication in Animals -- language, intention, meaning, alarms
  • Imitation and Social Learning -- culture, observational learning
  • Social Cognition and Emotion -- cooperation, altruism, empathy, deception
  • Self-recognition and Awareness -- consciousness, mirror self-recognition
  • Numerical Abilities in Animals -- counting, uses of quantity
  • Animals and Human Non-verbal Language -- sign language, shapes, graphic symbols.

This new edition's updates reflect the massive surge in research on animal cognitiion in the last 3 years -- in companion dogs, birds, insects, stingrays and mongooses.


Sally Boysen, PhD, is internationally recognized for her work in chimpanzee cognition. She is currently a consulting editor for the Journal of Comparative Psychology, and her research has been featured on the PBS series NOVA and on BBC Horizons.

Deborah Custance, PhD, has conducted research on social learning in several species of primates and published papers in international journals.


My interest in animal intelligence grew from my love of animals when I was in elementary school. A voracious reader, I devoured every book about animals at our local library, and even at a very young age, my goal was to become a veterinarian for zoo animals. My particular love was for the great apes - especially orangutans and chimpanzees. However, my first college course in ethology, or animal behavior, rather than animal medicine, changed everything. I soon realized that what animals were doing was much more exciting to learn about. The particular research direction that I chose, the study of chimpanzee cognitive abilities, has included experiments designed to explore chimpanzee numerical skills, their understanding of scale models and the ability to demonstrate an understanding of causality when using tools.
Even after 35 years of working with chimpanzees, their minds and behavior still hold the same fascination for me that they did when I was 7. My hope for this book is that it will arouse similar excitement in the reader and pique their curiosity about many animal species, each with their own unique capacities that reflect a measure of intelligence. For some animals, this will be easy to see simply by using an understanding of your own behavior and skills for comparison. More challenging may be the abilities of more distant and less well-known species that require more thoughtful consideration of how their natural habitat may have contributed to specialized behaviors that are "smart" for their particular environment. Consider what you read to be merely a drop of water in a sea of newly discovered knowledge and remarkable findings about all the other smart animals on the planet!

About This Book
This book is organized into seven chapters: Using tools, Communication, Imitation and Social Learning, Mirror Self-recognition, Numerical Abilities, Animal Language Studies, Cooperation and Altruism. Each chapter looks at the various species of animals that have shown particular skills and talents in these specific areas and describes the processes researchers use to observe and detect these signs of intelligence.
In the introduction, learn how scientists define and search for intelligence in animals.
Fascinating Facts
Interesting facts about the animals in the book provide background information on how they live
A map on each article shows where in the world each animal lives in the wild.
Step-By-Step Diagrams
Step-by-step diagrams demonstrate in detail the behaviors of smart animals and the experiments used to test them.

What exactly is meant by "the world's smartest animals," and how can we judge an animal's intelligence when academics can't even agree on the nature of human intelligence?
Ultimately, human intelligence seems to reflect whatever is measure in an intelligence test, and that's a far from satisfying definition. It may be that defining animal intelligence is more a case of comparing one species with another or with human beings, using our experience, observations and common sense. It just appears obvious that a capuchin monkey is probably smarter than a grasshopper, but note that the comparison is based on the abilities that we perceive a monkey to share with humans. Perhaps this type of "species-centric" focus is inevitable, since as humans we are most familiar with our own behavior. But what drives our own thinking and behavior and, in turn, our intelligence?
Animal and human intelligence
Based on current understanding of the human brain - a 3 lb (1.4 kg) extraordinarily complex, gelatinous blob of tissue that manages our every living moment - we know that an array of neural mechanisms and information - processing capacities provide us with enormous potential for learning and behavioural flexibility. Some scientists believe that our intellectual capacities are distinctly different from other species, based in many respects on the tremendous contribution that language and culture have made on individual learning. Others, however, see human intelligence as part of what Charles Darwin referred to as a "cognitive continuum," a distribution of cognitive abilities and the simplest single-celled organism, and extends across the animal kingdom. Animals that are capable of a sophisticated degree of learning and complex social structures, with cooperation, altruism, reconciliation, empathy and tool use - as seen among dolphins, chimpanzees and humans - lie at the far end of the continuum.
There are also differences between animals that can be readily trained to perform complex patterns of behavior - with dogs, for example, opening doors or retrieving objects for a disabled person. Dogs have been domesticated and selectively bred by humans for hundreds of generations for their social behavior and learning capacities. But this exceptional ability to learn, and an accompanying high degree of sociability with humans, can make them appear quite intelligent when, in fact, it is the combination of their willingness to train and receive rewards, couple with their genetically shaped willingness to please a trainer, that results in such accomplishments.
Great apes
The great apes are closest to humans in terms of problem-solving abilities and cognitive flexibility, with the chimpanzee being the closest living primate species to our own. It shares over 98 percent of its genetic material, or DNA, with humans. Because we shared a common ancestor a mere five or six million years ago - quite a short period in the evolutionary and geologic timetable - it should be no surprise that we share a tremendous overlap in features. These include anatomical, physiological, morphological, neurological and behavioural similarities, with the capacity to learn, and some types of problem-solving that are specific to the ape lineage. For example, the propensity for tool manufacturing and tool use can be observed in both humans and chimpanzees, but while our own culture has become incredibly sophisticated at both, the use and construction of different toolkits among various chimp communities across Central and Western equatorial Africa is still at a very basic level.
Comparative cognition
We have selected topics that cut a wide swathe across the developing field of animal or comparative cognition. This covers a wide diversity of species, methods, topics and scientific questions that are providing glimpses into the possible minds and intelligence of other animals. The present chapters can only touch upon a portion of the many extraordinary approaches and questions that are being addressed, and only some of the significant pioneering studies that have propelled the subject forward as an important new discipline.
Given our own history of tool making and tool use, it should not be surprising that comparisons with other animals' use of objects, particularly for acquiring food, is of great interest to researchers in many disciplines. Similarly because of the enormous scientific interest in the evolution of human language, studies of animal communication and vocalizations that may show evidence of referential signal use is of enormous interest to anthropologists, linguists, psychologist, biologists and philosophers.
In the same vein, the remarkable studies of sign language and other artificial language systems taught to a number of chimpanzees, one orangutan and one gorilla over the past 40 years, have revealed much about the similarities for representational symbol use and comprehension that exist between those species and our own. In turn, the experimental research on mirror self-recognition in apes, dolphins, elephants and now even magpies continues to challenge our understanding of other minds, and the parameters of what it means to be a chimpanzee or a dolphin, for example, in terms of a self-concept. These and other key questions that have been, and will be, explored in other animals challenge our understanding of what it means to be an aware, conscious, sentient being. We also need to know to what extent other species share these characteristics. Perhaps only then can we become proper stewards for all the species along the Darwinian continuum.


About this book
Chapter One: Using Tools

  • Woodpecker finches probe with sticks
  • New Caledonian crows hook a treat
  • Captive crows show talent for tool use
  • Sea otters hammer their way to a meal
  • Sea sponges provide padded protection
  • Naked mole-rats protect their assests
  • Why elephants use switches
  • The wild chimp's toolkit
  • Use of spears by wild chimpanzees
  • Sumatrans get to grips with tools
  • Wild gorillas stun researchers
  • Wild capuchins adapt tool use to suit their environment
  • Innovations with tools in captive capuchins
  • Tool use in captive chimps
Chapter Two: Communication
  • Dance language of honeybees
  • Ground squirrels look out for their own
  • Wild vervet monkey "smart" alarms
  • Baboons: kings of expression
  • Diana monkeys spread the news
  • Wild chimpazees: masters of communication
  • Signature whistles in dolphins
  • Whales can really carry a tune
  • Can elephants hear through their feet?
Chapter Three: Imitation and Social Learning
  • Monkey see, monkey do?
  • Jungle copy cats
  • Birdbrained is best
  • The great ape debate
  • Ape culture?
  • Chapter Four:
  • Mirror Self-Recognition
  • Chimps use mirrors like we do - to see how they look
  • Dolphins give themselves admiring glances
  • It's rude to stare - gorillas don't give mirrors a second glance
  • Elephants get the idea - with a very big mirror
Chapter Five: Numerical Abilities
  • The case of "Clever Hans"
  • You can count on an ant to find its way home
  • Lions show roar talent
  • Birds: the number crunchers
  • Rats that can count
  • Salamanders prefer more
  • Young chimps learn to count
Chapter Six: Animal Language Studies
  • Can you really teach a chimp to speak?
  • How a chimp learned sign language
  • Chimps and humans: do two great brains think alike?
  • Ask a dolphin and you'll get the right answer
  • Koko, the only gorillas to learn sign language
  • Is he smart, or just parroting what he's heard?
  • A young chimp keeps her answers in order
  • An orangutan learns to sign
  • Rocky, the sea lion with a logical approach
Chapter Seven: Cooperation and Altruism
  • "I'll scratch your back now, if you'll scratch my back later"
  • Chimps "kiss and make up" after a fight
  • Yawn and the world yawns with you - empathetic responses
  • A dog's dinner is a shared affair
  • Working together - is it teamwork or just a bunch of animals?
  • Monkeys are quick to spot an unfair deal


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