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Spotted Hyenas Thinking Outside the Box

Aug 09, 2012 07:14 AM EDT
Michigan State University researchers find that bacteria help hyenas 'talk to each other.'
(Photo : MSU)

A new study suggests that hyenas have problem solving abilities just like humans.

Hyenas are very intelligent predators and have great hunting skills. They interact with each other using signals and postures. Earlier studies have shown that hyenas are social animals and they live in groups known as clans protecting their territory.

This new study reveals hyenas possess problem solving techniques. In Kenya, a team of researchers from the Michigan State University (MSU) placed steel puzzle boxes in front of the hyenas. The boxes had a piece of meat inside that could be opened by sliding the bolted latch.

They studied the hyenas' actions and found nine out of 62 hyenas were successfully able to open the latch, showing their problem solving capabilties.

Experts noted the hyenas that were daring and quick to approach the box (that they have never seen before) were the most successful in opening it. Hyenas which took time to approach the box failed in their efforts.

Hyenas that were able to open the latch tried out various techniques such as biting and flipping, whereas hyenas that did not open the steel box tried the same method repeatedly to take the meat.

However, persistence among the hyenas did not work in their favor. Hyenas which attempted to open the box consistently weren't successful in their attempts.  "While those who gave up quickly were more likely to fail, some hyenas that spent more time with the puzzle box appeared to get stuck in a rut and would often try the same solutions over and over again," MSU zoology graduate student Sarah Benson-Amram said in a statement.

Spotted hyenas have larger brains like humans and primates that help them to think about the problems in a creative way and find out various possible solutions. This gives them a great advantage when they live in complex social groups. "A likely benefit of large brains is the ability to think flexibly about new situations and come up with solutions to novel problems," Professor Kay Holekamp from MSU said.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Proceedingsof the Royal Society B.

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