A new study published in Scientific Reports shows that New Caledonian crows can create long-range tools from short combinable pieces, which is an amazing mental feat.
The assembly of different components into new functional and maneuverable tools, until now, has only been observed in apes, and anthropologists believe that the early manufacture of human-made tools is a significant step in brain evolution.
Children take several years before creating novel tools, probably because it requires anticipated properties of objects not yet seen.
Such anticipation, or planning, is generally interpreted as involving creative mental modeling and executive functions.
The study, carried out by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Oxford, demonstrates that this species of raven possesses highly flexible abilities that allow it to solve complex problems involving the anticipation of the properties of objects they have never seen.
“The finding is remarkable because the crows received no assistance or training in making these combinations, they figured it out by themselves,” said Auguste von Bayern, from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Oxford.
Alex Kacelnik, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: “The results corroborate that these crows possess highly flexible abilities that allow them to solve novel problems rapidly, but do not show how they do it. It is possible that they use some form of virtual simulation of the problem as if different potential actions were played in their brains until they figure out a viable solution, and then do it.”
“Similar processes are being modeled on artificial intelligence and implemented in physical robots, as a way to better understand the animals and to discover ways to build machines able to reach autonomous creative solutions to novel problems.”