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Thread: Chimps and fire

  1. #1 Chimps and fire 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    An interesting item in New Scientist suggests that chimps have a grasp of fire and its progress. Instead of panicking at an advancing fire front, they appear to assess its progress and do what they have to in order to avoid it, rather than wasting energy rushing off to an unnecessary extent.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/...p-of-fire.html

    The suggestion is that, if chimps can evaluate fire and its hazard so accurately with their relatively small brain, our ancestors of 1 to 2 million years ago, with much bigger brains than chimps, may have been using fire much earlier than anyone has realised.


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  3. #2  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    i suppose the lack of panic in the face of fire is a prerequisite to trying to control it


    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  4. #3  
    Forum Masters Degree Golkarian's Avatar
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    Did they do similar tests with other animals?

    I'm just wondering if it's something widespread or a curiosity of chimp intelligence.
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  5. #4  
    Time Lord
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    I'm unsure if it's fire specifically, or intelligence either. Each species is more or less "flighty" about novel situations. For examples raccoons and crows aren't shy of novelty of any kind. They'll sooner approach, say a tent in the forest, I think, than chimps will. Indeed crows are known to collect weird man-made objects to their nests apparently because the novelty fascinates them. A gorilla would never do that.

    I hypothesize opportunistic omnivores score the highest novelty tolerance. And fire falls into the category of novelty. Humans are supremely opportunistic omnivores.

    But for more perspective: US Fish & Wildlife Service says portrayal of fire-terrified animals in Bambi is far from truth, rather fire crews routinely observe species like bear and raccoon take advantage of advancing fire-line to forage, raptors circle overhead for exposed rodents and flying insects (which depending on species are attracted or repulsed by fire), and firefighters have even watched predators catch prey a few feet from the flame-front.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  6. #5  
    Moderator Moderator TheBiologista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    I'm unsure if it's fire specifically, or intelligence either. Each species is more or less "flighty" about novel situations. For examples raccoons and crows aren't shy of novelty of any kind.
    Don't know about raccoons, but crows are widely regarded as being extremely intelligent. Tool usage is documented and they may display theory of mind also, though that second finding was in magpies rather than crows.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    They'll sooner approach, say a tent in the forest, I think, than chimps will. Indeed crows are known to collect weird man-made objects to their nests apparently because the novelty fascinates them. A gorilla would never do that.
    Gorillas are more timid but they certainly have been documented exhibiting curiosity about man made objects. I remember seeing a documentary in which a silver back identified a man made trap, prevented younger gorillas from approaching it and then disabled it. They were also shown picking up some sort of lizard, examining it closely and passing it around the group before releasing it. Combine that with documented cases of tool usage and you've got a very curious ape.

    Of course this doesn't rule out your hypothesis. If the ancestors of gorillas were omnivores, they may still retain some of that love of novelty.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    My theory is that curiosity is mostly a byproduct of intelligence. Predators and omnivores tend to be smarter than leaf eaters. Raccoons and crows both eat meat, and are probably rather smart.

    The only animal I know of with a brain larger than humans, plus a brain to body size ratio very close to human, is the bottlenose dolphin. This implies that they have substantial intelligence, and bottlenose dolphins in captivity have shown every sign of this intelligence. They have also shown enormous curiosity.

    We have a wild bottlenose dolphin here in New Zealand right now that has become very friendly towards humans. It plays with swimmers, and pushes around their surfboards etc.
    http://www.voyagemahia.com/moko.asp

    Some of this dolphins antics are even more impressive!
    http://www.metro.co.uk/news/117535-h...ves-two-whales

    Definitely both highly intelligent and highly curious.
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  8. #7  
    Time Lord
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    There are different kinds of intelligence. Predators like dolphins, cats, even cuttlefish, stress theory-of-mind / empathy because they need to predict and manipulate the minds of other species. Raccoons, though intensely curious, seem to lack this particular kind of intelligence - they won't study your behaviour like (less intelligent?) parrots do.

    That said, intelligence is somewhat flexible.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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