Welcome to the twelfth in a series of Animal Tales from the Bermuda SPCA, which has kindly been sponsored by our good friends at Noah’s Ark.
Most people who know anything about dogs probably would agree that the Border collie is the cleverest breed. But just how intelligent are these dogs, and what is the limit to their mental abilities?
Over the past three years professors at Wofford College in South Carolina have been working intensely with a Border collie named Chaser (now aged six) to try and determine the limits to her mastery of vocabulary.
One by one they introduced Chaser to a huge selection of toys, which they named individually, and they kept repeating the names of the toys to reinforce the association.
From over a 1,000 toys they would randomly select 20 at a time and then instruct Chaser to retrieve them by name, one at a time. Over the course of three years they conducted over 800 such exercises with the dog, and Chaser never got less than 18 out of 20 correct.
Chaser was also taught how to sort her toys according to function and shape, and to respond to three different commands when retrieving the said toys; ‘paw’ — to move the selected toy with her paw; ‘nose’ — to push the toy with her nose; and ‘bring’ — to retrieve the said toy.
The next time that you talk to your dog, or any dog for that matter, he or she may well understand a lot more than you think!
Take your pick!
What do the bamboo shark, the grey-faced sengi, the giant slipper orchid and Chan’s megastick insect all have in common?
The small bamboo or walking shark was discovered five years ago amidst the coral reefs off Indonesia — an area well known for its biodiversity. Though capable of swimming, what makes this species of shark unique is its ability to use its pectoral fins to literally walk along the coral reef in search of food.
Also discovered in 2006 was the rabbit-sized sengi or elephant shrew, which is endemic to south-central Tanzania. It has a long flexible nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk, and despite the huge disparity in their respective sizes, the sengi actually share a common ancestry with elephants!
The flamboyant giant slipper orchid originates from the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Peru. Discovered in 2001, this extremely rare and costly orchid has vibrant purple flowers, which are up to eight inches across.
Chan’s megastick is that and more; a huge stick insect that can grow over 20 inches in length — in fact it’s the longest insect in the world. They originate from Saba, Borneo, and were first documented in 2008. Only a handful of specimens exist and practically nothing is known about their lifestyle.
How rare are new species? Well, not so rare as you might think. Over the past decade alone an estimate 250,000 new species have been discovered worldwide and recorded.
Other new species to emerge over the past 10 years include the big red jellyfish, which lives 3,000 metres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean off Mexico, the rare Kipunji monkey — actually a new genus of monkey species — and the Langkawi bent-toed gecko, which uses its remarkable eyesight to catch prey at night.
What has got scientists particularly excited is that they have found a variety of this same ‘new’ Malaysian forest gecko living inside a limestone cave. They speculate that these cave geckos may be a rare example of evolution in the making.
Finally, a mention of the pygmy three-toed sloth, which according to a recent TV documentary, is the scientist’s own favourite amongst the new species to emerge over the past decade.
Just 200 of them exist on a small Caribbean island off the coast of Panama, which became separated from the mainland about 9,000 years ago. These sloths are slower, more placid and less than half the size of their continental cousins — largely due to their restrictive diet; they dine exclusively on low-nutrient mangrove leaves.
They have also developed another amazing trait — one that we don’t associate with sloths — they can swim.
It just remains to be seen what incredible new discovers await us over the next 10 years!