I was wondering if small animals such as ants, spiders, flies, crickets… etc. have any kind of intelligence. Not intelligence that solves problems (or is compared in any kind to human intelligence), but… can they process information around them for their benefit? Or everything they do is just use their bodies to eat and reproduce? Sea cucumbers just stay down there on the ocean eating. But what about mobile “simple” animals (although it has been discovered that a garden bug has gears)
A jumping spider will circle around to attack its prey from behind. Weaving spiders will shift the shape/center of their web towards the side that more insects are caught on.
Bees communicate directions to good food sources through a little dance.
Not exactly rocket science, but pretty impressive nonetheless.
I was going to bring up jumping spiders as well. They seem to stalk their prey taking advantage of natural cover etc as they stalk.
David Quammen, in one of his books, talks about teasing the programmed or “hard wired” behavior of a particular wasp. The wasp will paralyze its prey, drag it to her lair, go into the lair to check it out (no other predators) and then go back and and pull the prey inside.
Quammen would wait till the wasp was inside, and then move the prey a few inches.
The wasp would come back out, grab the prey, drag it near the lair…and then go back inside the lair to check it out. That step could not be omitted. While she was doing it, Quammen would move the prey a few inches.
He got tired of it before she did. The wasp was “unintelligent” to the degree of never leaving out an unnecessary step in the programmed routine.
I’ve always thought those bastards were scary smart.
So, what differentiates such behaviour as stalking from intelligence and instincts? Is there a line between a thinking animal and a “passive” animal that just has some tools to get its food or even just stays on the ground? I can understand that a bacteria will divide itself. And that is pretty much it. But what about an ant, that builds extremely complex colonies? Or spiders that build perfect webs?
Recent article that includes mention of a spider that makes a “spider scarecrow” to fuck with predators.
Depends on what you call intelligence. The Honey Bee dance is a pretty high level thing, but I would assume still hardwired.
Intelligence is hard to pin down, but ants seem capable of some kinds of learning.
Highly recommend the book, too.
There is no sharp dividing line to be drawn here. Insects (and even simpler animals) certainly do “process information around them for their benefit”. So do we. We do it in much more complex, sophisticated ways, taking in a greater variety of types of information over a longer period of time, and using to plan our actions further into the future, and with more flexibility (so that our plans may change as new information comes in), but it is all basically the same sort of thing.
IIRC, one Shuttle experiment involved taking flies and bees up to see how they’d react to zero G. Both of them initially had difficulty flying, since the methods that work with gravity don’t work so well without. But the bees within a few hours figured out a different set of wing movements that did work well in zero G, an environment they couldn’t possibly have evolved to cope with.
Another way that some look at is that individual ants or bees are akin to higher level neurons in their information processing capacity and the colony is analogous to a brain. A colony does some pretty complex problem solving.
Bee hives are capable of limited learning. I recall reading of an experiment where scientists were trying to learn how far bees will go for food by progressively moving a dish of bee-food farther away from a hive a little bit more each day. Until one day a swarm of bees passed them as they were moving the dish and hovered at their destination.
What’s intelligence? It’s a hard thing to define, but those of us who try to get dumb machines to do smart-ish things can pretty quickly make a distinction between stuff we would not call intelligence (following an algorithm to sort a list) and stuff we would (interpreting objects in a 3D world based on 2D inputs and finding solutions to practical problems such as how to get from hither to yon.)
I would say that insects are definitely intelligent in a way that few computer-based systems have been, possibly until recently. My guess is that our best autonomous robots are roughly as intelligent as a typical insect.
I wonder to what extent do insects learn things like how to control their legs and antennae after hatching? Of course a lot of it is hard-wired, but I would be very surprised if there isn’t a lot of feedback-cycle tuning of the type we’d call “learning”, even though it’s far from what we understand as the typical human activity of learning. (Far more akin to what learning our artificially intelligent systems do, is my guess.)
Hah! That’s a good one.
Ant and bee colonies definitely do learn, and they learn as a result of individuals learning (facts). My guess is that both insects and colonies of social insects are capable of learning the kinds of facts that they typically have to deal with, but rarely learn new strategies other than by genetic mutation.
Contrast that with the lowly octopus, until the latter 1900’s assumed to be rather unintelligent (after all, it’s not even a chordate, and all creatures with any significant intelligence are vertebrates! … or so we thought. I think.) Anyway, if you put an octopus in a tank with its food and the food is in a glass mason jar with a screw-on lid, eventually the octopus will manage to get the food out of the jar. Not too surprisingly, once an octopus has done this, it’s quicker the next time.
The surprising bit is that if you put an octopus in a tank next to a jar-knowledgeable octopus and let it watch smartie open that jar a few times and then plop a food-laden jar in its tank, it will get the jar open significantly sooner than it otherwise would.
Now, what I wonder is whether the octopus would figure it out faster if human hands or some other process unscrewed the lid. Is it reacting to seeing the lid untwist, or seeing the other octopus contort itself in a certain way? In either case, though, it’s doing a very different kind of thing than simply reacting directly to external stimuli. It has to form some sort of conceptual framework for applying something that is only seen to its own motor and tactile processes.
In the UK, cephalopods are “honorary vertebrates”, for cruelty-to-animal laws. I don’t know enough to comment, but it seems reasonable to me.
I was curious, so I looked this up: http://cephalove.southernfriedscience.com/?p=626
A little more love for sea cucumbers, please. Sea cucumbers are sedentary, but not immobile. They crawl and some of them can swim. When under attack, some of them can squirt tubules from their respiratory system (sometimes mixed with a toxin) out of their anus and onto the predator attacking them. So at the very least they have to have some way to decide if a threat is worth farting out a lung.
Some bacteria are also motile, via cilia, flagella, or vacuole management. Many can sense a gradient in chemical concentration across the length of their bodies and use the information to swim toward food. Not that I’m saying this is “thinking”. I assume that mammals would require that there be at least one neuron involved before the word thinking could be used.
But back to the insects. One impediment to gathering information about the world beyond one’s own carapace is bad eyesight. According to Uncle Cecil, the range of sight for insectsvaries a lot. Although a lot of them use scent signals that we can’t detect directly to make up for it. Here they say that the insects with the longest sight range are probably butterflies (a few meters). I mention eyesight (and smell) because it’s hard to perform intellegence without information coming in.
I’m going to guess that the itellegence of insects (and arachnids) varies as much as their senses do. Preditory insects have good eyesight and must learn to stalk prey. As an example, praying mantises have been seen catching and eating hummingbirds by laying in wait at hummingbird feeders.
Colonial insects pass information by scent and sometimes in other ways (bees dancing). Butterflies have good eyesight (do moths?) and must find nectar and avoid preditors. I’d guess that insects in these categories have developed some thinking ability. Now I’m curious about what research has and hasn’t been done on the subject of insect intelligence. Thanks for asking this question. It’s interesting.
Sorry. I gave a terrible example. As I am terrified of those creatures I really don’t like to look up for them. Anything with tentacles, stingers, etc etc etc scares the crap ou of me.
What about yeast? They optimise their networks according to available resources. They’re trying to use yeast to design road networks.
No problem, I just have a soft spot for holothurians (sea cucumbers). Have had since I did a report on them in high school. The chance to go scrounging for information on them on the internet was cool.
Wikipedia says they do not have a true brain, so you may have been perfectly right to name them as an example.
They’re detritavores, not predators, so they don’t pursue or lay in wait for anything. They may not be completely unthinking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some insects have them beat.
Speaking of tentacles and stinging, sea anemones are less mentally endowed that sea cucumbers. They have no central nervous system at all and no specialized sensory organs. They can move, but do so less than sea cucumbers do. If they think, it would be very rudimentary thinking.
What else goes into thinking? Besides sensory information and central comparisons . . . memory? Hmmmm.