Column in The Hindu’s Young World
Ingenious and intelligent
Artistic elephants, musical pigs, dancing dolphins and more… meet some smart cookies from the animal world.
By Arefa Tehsin: Author & Ex-Honorary Wildlife Warden, Udaipur
Elephants can paint, ants can farm, pigs can sing to their little ones, squirrels can pretend to hide food to confuse thieves and, crows can use humans as tools! There are many bewilderingly brainy animals — some spineless, others small, some cute, others menacing. But all of them are intelligent.
A recent study has concluded that crocodiles play! My father, naturalist Raza H. Tehsin, had once chanced upon a fly sitting on the head of a small toad and moving its legs as if to tickle it. The toad, which was only slightly bigger than the fly, had tried to catch it and only ended up catching one of its wings which it had to finally let go. The first act may be co-incidental but the four repetitions hint that they were deliberate acts of the fly. The teasing instinct in such small creatures is baffling.
Untangled Octopus: The languid, tardy, tentacled octopus lying snugly in the depths of the ocean is quite untangled in its mind. It is one of the smartest creatures of the sea with a respectable memory for an invertebrate. It can screw open the lid of a jar, navigate through mazes and solve problems. Although, how it does it all remains a mystery.
Daredevil Otters: My father had once observed a family of otters attacking and chasing away a crocodile from their river. Yes, these brave hearts do the planning and execute their plans together. They frolic, eat fish, make swanky caves with an opening in the river, clean crabs using rocks and play! Believe it or not, playing is a sign of high intelligence. But you already believe it, don’t you?
No doubt, apes are great: Great apes, particularly the chimpanzees and orangutans are frighteningly intelligent. Especially if you take into account the story of the Planet of the Apes. Chimpanzees hunt in groups, use tools (like sticks for hunting or twigs for fishing), have sharp memories and can learn sigh language to communicate with humans. Great apes are considered the smartest of all after humans on earth. Considering who has decided the hierarchy — us.
Dancing Dolphins: Acutely intelligent, dolphins are considered the third most intelligent animal to inhabit planet earth. No wonder they are the stars of aquarium shows. These social marine animals are highly emotional and make sure that others know how they’re feeling through their sophisticated language. And they know how to enjoy themselves. While sleeping, half of their brain is awake so that predators don’t catch them by surprise.
Even if we had half of our brain awake we’d know that animals — intelligent, ferocious or tame — need their homes to live and food to eat. We can’t claim everything. Imagine if the eight-legged brainy octopus decides to get into an argument with you over fish.