A new study has uncovered what many chicken owners would say is evident: a mother hen experiences empathy for her hatchlings. Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study found that mother hens show both physiological responses and changes in behaviors when their chicks are even mildly distressed.
For example, when chicks were exposed to a puff of air, scientists non-invasively recorded the hens’ physiological responses: its heart rate increasing, while its eye temperature decreased. Behaviorally, the hens’ alertness and vocalizations increased.
“Our research has addressed the fundamental question of whether birds have the capacity to show empathic responses,” Jo Edgar, PhD student in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, said. “We found that adult female birds possess at least one of the essential underpinning attributes of ’empathy’; the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another.”
The researchers say the study could have implications on human-use of chickens and other birds.
“The extent to which animals are affected by the distress of others is of high relevance to the welfare of farm and laboratory animals,” says Edgar.
CITATION: ‘Avian maternal response to chick distress’, J L Edgar, J C Lowe, E S Paul, C J Nicol, published online ahead of print Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 9 March 2011.
A “spared-life” rooster at Ringa Monastery, which has been saved from the butcher and set free at the monastery in Tibetan Yunnan a part of southern China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
(03/07/2011) A new study proves that elephants understand how sometimes two is better than one. Working with Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, researchers reconstructed a classic cooperation test that was originally developed for chimpanzees. Subjects must pull on a rope to receive a reward, such as food, however—and here’s the crux—the treat is only released if two subjects cooperate by pulling on two different ropes simultaneously. The paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that elephants were as capable of cooperation as chimpanzees.
(07/08/2010) It sounds like something out of a fairy-tale: the big bad predator lures its gullible prey by mimicking a loved one: ‘why grandma, what big teeth you have!’ But in this case it’s the shocking strategy of one little-known jungle feline. In 2005 researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) were watching a group of eight pied tamarins ( Saguinus bicolor), squirrel-sized monkeys, feeding on a ficus tree in the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke in Brazil. They then heard the sound of tamarin babies, but were surprised to see that the sound was not coming from young tamarins, but a hungry margay (Leopardus wiedii), a small cat native to Central and South America, which was hidden from the tamarins.
(06/29/2010) Many people would likely consider ‘insect intelligence’ a contradiction in terms, viewing insects—when they think of them as anything more than pests—as something like hardwired tiny robots, not adaptive, not intelligent, and certainly not conscious. However, research over the last few decades have shown that a number of well-studied insects are capable of performing amazing intellectual feats, from recognizing individuals to employing a symbolic language in a behavior known as a ‘bee waggle’. “Already in 1900, Buttel-Reepen asked whether honeybees are mere reflex machines—and emphatically denied that claim,” Dr. Lars Chittka, professor of Sensory and Behavioral Ecology at Queen Mary University in London, told mongabay.com in an interview. “Over the last century, we have seen a fundamental change in perspective on the learning capacities of insects, and there a now several credible lines of evidence that insects are capable of cognitive feats that had previously been ascribed only to ‘higher’ vertebrates”.