Bird Brains and Smarty Pants

june202016It turns out being a bird brain is a good thing!

Scientists have announced that the tiny brains of birds have more neurons in them than mammals or even our closest relatives the primates. Neurons are nerve cells that transmit signals in our brains and nervous systems, and are related to intelligence (although scientists don’t completely understand this relationship). For example the macaw, which has a walnut-size brain, has more neurons in its forebrain (the part of the brain associated with complex thinking and intelligence) than a much larger macaque monkey. We have always known birds are smart. Some species, such as crows and parrots, can be taught to use tools, unzip zippers, recognize themselves in a mirror, and solve problems. But scientists were puzzled by how creatures with such puny brains could be so intelligent. The answer seems to be more, and smaller, neurons packed into their brains.

Although there is still much to learn about how brain size and neurons correlate with complex thought, this study suggests that there is more than one way to build an intelligent brain; in this case size doesn’t necessarily matter.

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June 20, 2016

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