Goats: the crows of the bovid family?

Just as crows are smarter than the average bird, goats, it seems, are capable of feats of intelligence far beyond what was previously believed.

(Credit: Goats in Morocco image by Xavier, CC BY 2.0)

Just as crows are smarter than the average bird , goats, it seems, are capable of feats of intelligence far beyond what was previously believed.

Anyone who's spent any time around goats knows that they are curious creatures — and that curiosity leads them into some pretty deep mischief. It probably also wouldn't surprise goat-lovers that the bovids are pretty smart — but we're only just beginning to discover exactly how smart.

As researchers at Queen Mary University of London have discovered, goats are capable of learning how to solve a multi-step puzzle — and then retaining that information for at least 10 months.

A team of researchers led by agricultural sciences Dr Elodie Briefer taught the goats to perform a two-step challenge: accessing hidden food by pulling a lever with their mouths, then lifting it to open the box. It took less than 12 trials for the goats to learn this trick, a remarkably fast learning time.

There were two groups: goats that watched another goat perform the challenge first, and goats that went in cold. Both groups of goats were equally fast at learning the challenge, indicating that goats learn by doing rather than watching.

(Credit: Goats image by Nicole Allen, CC BY-ND 2.0)

But it was what occurred 10 months later was even more remarkable: nine of the 12 goats remembered how to perform the challenge, and it took them less than two minutes to open the box.

"The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10 months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory," Dr Briefer said.

The results of the study — the first in which scientists investigated how goats learn complex tasks — may provide some clues as to how goats adapt to harsh conditions.

"Our results challenge the common misconception that goats aren't intelligent animals — they have the ability to learn complex tasks and remember them for a long time," said study co-author Dr Alan McElligott. "This could explain why they are so successful in colonising new environments, though we would need to perform a similar study with wild goats to be sure."

Maybe they aren't quite as smart as crows , but they're certainly smarter than the average sheep. Watch Willow the goat completing the challenge after the 10-month interval in the video below, and you can read the full study online in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

Via www.qmul.ac.uk

About the author

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.


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