The Nature of Things doc, Think Like an Animal introduces us to some unlikely species whose intelligence has been underestimated by humans. Meet some other 'smart' creatures — even plants? — that are also capable of doing some pretty amazing things, some from the Nature of Things archive.

The Great Octopus Escape 

It was the middle of the night when Inky the octopus pulled a fast one on the staff at New Zealand’s National Aquarium, making a Houdini-like escape from his glass enclosure. Octopuses are known to have extremely complex brains.

But just how did Inky manage to find his way to freedom? Staff believe that the enclosure lid was left ajar and that Inky slithered down a 50-metre drainpipe into the sea.

Octopuses have no bones and are able to fit into extremely small spaces. They also have an acute sense of smell due to sensors at the ends of their arms and are able to smell predators from quite a distance.

And while Inky was able to use these abitilies to master an escape, Pepino used the same skills in an entirely different way. Watch below:

Elephants Have An Amazing Memory - Really!

In Mysteries of the Animal Mind, we meet an elephant who took a week to figure out to get a basket of fruit dangling from some very high branches by standing on a cube to reach. Two years later, another basket of fruit was added to a completely different enclosure. This time, it took less than twenty minutes to use the cube.

An even more surprising thing happened when the researchers removed the cube. This elephant searched his enclosure for just the right step-stool to complete his goal. 

It turns out that remarkable recall is important to help elephants survive. Matriarchs hold a store of knowledge that helps them remember family units that forage and socialize together without conflict.  And it means that they are able to survive changing climate conditions. Elephants that have lived to experience more, know just where to look for food and water in drought conditions.

The Mapping Masters

Their brains are no bigger than a sesame seed. But it appears that a bumblebee’s mind is buzzing with activity. Bees forage in flowers like salesmen travelling between towns. They’re masters at choosing the shortest route between a multitude of locations – otherwise known as the "travelling salesman problem."

Faster than Google Maps, bees excel at math, learning and remembering the distances and directions that need to be flown to find their way home from nest to field and back again.

Why have they bested modern technology at this complicated math problem? Bees visit lots of flowers every day to feed. By knowing the shortest route between them, they’re able to expend less energy flying — which is essential to their survival — but not so key to ours.

Tools of the Trade

Until the 1960s it was thought that humans alone were capable of using tools. Not so! In the wild, researchers have observed chimpanzees making fishing materials out of twigs and sponges out of chewed up trees.

In this video from BBC’s Life Story, a wild Senegalese chimp breaks off a branch and uses the sharp end to plunge into a log hoping to spear a galago or brushbaby hiding inside.

The chimp finally flushes out its prey to eat.

And now scientists have also seen how chimps pass knowledge of how to use tools to the next generation. Anthropologists from Washington Univ. in St. Louis set up video cameras to record wild chimp moms at termite mounds in the Republic of Congo. They discovered that moms “home school’ their kids by showing them how to go fishing for termites with a special tool.

Just like us, tools are essential for chimps and many other species, including birds and octopuses.

This Crow's Got An Eye on You

Urban birds like crows are famous for their ability to recognize the people they see on a daily basis. What’s more, they distinguish between what they consider good humans and bad humans, forming opinions that can last for years — even generations!

In the doc A Murder of Crows, researchers found that fledgings observed how their parents reacted to certain faces and then were able to remember the interaction — even though they didn't directly experience it — and react in a manner similar to their parents months later. It’s a hallmark of intelligence seen in very few animals. 

Why are crows so attuned to humans? Experts believe that it’s simply a byproduct of their visual acuity. They have an unusually keen ability to recognize each other, even after months of separation. This gives them an evolutionary advantage as they learn just who to avoid and who to seek out. 

So there it is: make an enemy out of a crow and you’ll have an enemy for life!

The Smarty Plants

Intelligence is not just confined to the animal kingdom. Researchers are discovering that plants exhibit signs of intelligent behavior too!

Plants communicate, nuture their young, recognize their relatives — and even wage war against other.

In the clip above, from the documentary Smarty Plants, researchers learn how knapweed uses its roots to deploy a chemical that kills off competitors allowing it to hold large territory — a behavior that’s very animal-like.

Who knew that your backyard garden was pulsating with sex, communication and social interaction?

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