September 29, 2009

Hyenas problem-solve better than primates

U.S. evolutionary anthropologists say they've discovered spotted hyenas outperform primates on cooperative problem-solving tests.

Duke University scientists led by Associate Professor Christine Drea said captive pairs of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) that needed to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward cooperated successfully and learned the maneuvers quickly with no training. And the researchers discovered experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced partners do the trick.

When confronted with a similar task, chimpanzees and other primates often required extensive training, Drea said.

Drea said her study shows social carnivores such as spotted hyenas that hunt in packs might be good models for investigating cooperative problem solving and the evolution of social intelligence.

Drea and co-author Allisa Carter of the University of California-Berkeley detail their research in the early online October issue of the journal Animal Behavior.