Bird's-eye view of art

Picasso Pigeon

Meet the pigeon who knows a thing or two about Picasso


Are pigeons smarter than art students? In tests a pigeon was able to spot subtle differences between abstract designs that university students did not notice. It could even tell a Picasso from a Monet, though, in this case, the students' blushes were spared as they showed that they, too, could distinguish between the two artists.

The pigeon, not previously thought of as terribly bright, is one of the new bird (and other) brains featured in BBC2's Animal Minds. The three-part series reveals new insights into the way animals think, solve problems, grasp concepts, talk and learn.

Some show quite astonishing mental abilities. The nutcracker, a type of crow, may have the animal world's ultimate memory. It collects and stores 30,000 pine seeds during the autumn and, over the next eight months, manages to retrieve more than 90 per cent of them.

One of the smartest creatures of all, the dolphin, can interpret sentences, according to their construction. Dolphins correctly followed these instructions: "Take the right basket to the left water" and "Take the left basket to the right water."

The series shows that animal "intelligence" maybe wider than we thought. But though creatures may outperform us on some tests, they can still fail - as the "star" pigeon did - apparently simple tasks. It concludes that social needs drive creatures to become smarter. A complex social world requires a higher level of intelligence; dolphins and chimps, humans and parrots are all highly social - and smart animals.

Carol Vorderman According to researchers in Germany, bees can count...
In an experiment, honey bees were trained to fly from their hive to a sugar feeder four landmarks were then placed along their line of flight with the sugar feeder between the third and fourth.

The position of the original sugar feeder was then changed and the number and position of the landmarks altered radically: a new feeder containing no sugar was placed between the third and fourth landmark.
Many of the bees flew straight to the new feeder, ignoring the original in its new position, even though it contained the lovely sugar solution. The scientific conclusion is that the bees reacted solely to the number of landmarks they had passed and, therefore, they must have a basic ability to count - perhaps a job in the Treasury awaits.

On the subject of clever flying things, Tomorrow's World this week hears witness to the incredible way that moths manage to stay in the air. An enormous motorised hawkmoth manages to prove yet again just how brilliant nature is.

The amazing beating action of the wings causes a vortex, a small tornado, to roll along the front of each wing. This speeds the flow of air over the top and gives the hawkmoth the lift it needs to fly. Who knows, aircraft manufacturers may yet try to replicate it - stranger things have happened. Fasten your seatbelts... we're heading for a honeycomb.
Radio Times

Pig Tails:Babe has a bacon-roll in the hay

This little piggy went to MENSA

Brainy Babe may be just the beginning: now scientists believe that pigs are so clever they could one day talk to us.

Pigs are cleverer than you think. No, no, much cleverer. According to research carried out in America by Professor Stanley Curtis - focus of this week's QED Move Over Babe! pigs can play computer games, respond to verbal commands and, one day soon, they'll be talking to us. "What QED will show," says Curtis, "is that pigs are able to do many quite artificial things that have surprised people who specialise in animal intelligence. We are at the beginning of our work, but already have results that some people will find fantastic."

Curtis's pigs use their snouts to move joysticks, to hit targets on a computer screen with a cursor. "They have a hit rate of well over 80 per cent," he says. "With primates, a typical contingency is 70 per cent." So pigs might be able to play computer ping-pong? "Yes, they could."
Away from the computer, pigs can fetch Pork Power:maybe one day they'll fly!objects on request. QED even carries out an experiment to see if a pig could herd sheep, as the one in the movie Babe does.

But the motivation behind Curtis's experiments has always been the animals' welfare. In five to ten years' time, he suggests, we may be communicating with pigs, once we understand their squeals and grunts and can use them to form a rudimentary language. "Previously, we have had to judge from pigs' overt behaviour how they feel," says Curtis "It would be so much more precise for the animal to tell us itself .
NICK GRIFFITH RT 31 May - 6 June 1997





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Radio Times 16-22 JANUARY 1999  File Info: Created 19/7/2000 Updated 27/12/2017 Page Address: