A Murder of Crows

August 16, 2002

Recently scientists were astounded by a crow who demonstrated an amazing ability: she made a tool. The crow, called "Betty" by researchers despite the fact that her real name is Gladys, bent a small piece of wire into a hook and used it to pull a worm out of a hole. Scientists are calling it a surprising discovery in the field of animal thinking, but then again scientists are being surprised all the time by animal abilities.

Chimpanzees demonstrate an astounding number of human-like behaviors, including the use of tools and mourning for their dead, bees use complex dances to tell other bees where to find flowers, and octopuses are surprisingly good at figuring out how to open jars, which is handy for weak-wristed cephalopod researchers who have a hankering for peanut butter. Scientists have even discovered that starfish talk to each other. Ignoring that they don’t have eyes, ears, or even brains as we understand them, what could starfish possibly have to say? "Has anyone seen my stomach? I sent it out to digest a mussel and it hasn’t come back yet." And let’s not forget all the things we owe animals: you can be sly as a fox, wise an owl, horse around, be the black sheep in your family, pig out, sing like a canary, drink like a fish, and I personally laugh like a hyena.

Where would we be without animals? What would major sporting events be like without the Bears, the Cubs, the Lions, the Cardinals, the Tigers, the Wolverines, and the Blue Jays? For that matter, where would Mark Twain have been without the jumping frog of Calaveras county, or Goldilocks without the three bears, or Princess Anonymous without the frog prince? Okay, that’s two frogs, but animals have given us a lot.

A dog is a man’s best friend. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back in time to control the rat population of Europe, which helped eliminate the Black Plague. And yet we repay them by hunting them to extinction, dumping toxic waste in their habitats, destroying their homes to build fast food restaurants and then poisoning them when they get into our garbage. Consider this possibility: maybe Betty isn’t demonstrating a natural intelligence in crows. Maybe she’s part of a new breed that’s smarter, and maybe in a few generations crows will be smart enough that they’ll stop surreptitiously raiding corn crops and start operating harvesting machines themselves. Maybe it’s not just the crows. Maybe in a few years whales will start grabbing harpoons from Norwegian fishermen and throwing them back. We already know many whales and other cetaceans can talk to each other, but it’s going to be a whole new world when they start saying, "Hey! Let’s see how you like a harpoon in your butt, Knut!" In jungles all over the world there are guerillas with guns, but what happens when gorillas get guns? Parrots are losing their habitats, so it’s just a matter of time before they start stealing our wallets, and the next thing you know they’ll be phoning up Amazon real estate companies and saying, "Yes, I’d like to purchase 1,700 acres, and my credit card number is…"

I’m exaggerating of course, but with so many animals facing possible extinction, including many we eat as food, it will eventually only be the smartest, most adaptable who survive. In other words, we might end up having to eat some crow.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Top 10 Dog Pet Peeves About Humans

  1. Blaming your gas on me…. Not Funny.

  2. Yelling at me for barking. Fine–next time there’s a guy with a crowbar dressed all in black in the driveway I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

  3. Taking me for a walk then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly whose walk is this anyway? You can go out whenever you want. I have to wait for you.

  4. Any trick balancing food on my nose…. Stop it.

  5. Yelling at me for rubbing myself on your carpet. Why did you buy carpet?

  6. Getting upset when I sniff crotches of your guests. Sorry but I haven’t quite mastered the handshake thing yet…idiot.

  7. Any haircut that involves bows or ribbons. Now you know why we chew your stuff up when you are not home.

  8. Taking me to the vet for "The big snip", then acting surprised when I freak out every time we go back.

  9. Dog Sweaters.

  10. The sleight of hand, fake fetch throws. You fooled a dog! What a proud moment for the top of the food chain, you nitwit.

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