5 Animals Who Taught Themselves Eerily Human Skills

#2. Ants Count Their Steps When Traveling

Eduard Lysenko/iStock/Getty Images

Scientists had long wondered how ants are able to so efficiently find their way home, considering they barely have brains and most anthills look exactly the same, like suburbs in an Eastern bloc nation. Some thought that ants rely on visual cues, but since blindfolded ants could navigate just as readily as those who didn't have adorably tiny handkerchiefs tied across their eyes, that theory died fast.

But a few years ago, researchers decided to test another theory: that ants can count via an internal pedometer that records the number of steps it takes to make it to a specific destination. Much like how blind people will memorize the layout of a house by remembering how many steps it takes to get from one room to another, ants keep track of how many steps they took to get from their dark, writhing larval lair to your potato salad.

Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
The number is always more than the number of fucks they give about ruining your picnic.

Scientists tested this theory in perhaps the most dickish manner possible. They first trained desert ants to walk in a straight line by placing food 30 feet away from them. After they removed the food, the ants would still walk in the same perfectly straight line they always did, but upon realizing that they'd been had, they would begin to wander aimlessly around, looking for candy wrappers and/or dead animals (ants aren't picky).

While this proved that the ants knew where the food was supposed to be, it still wasn't enough to conclude that they were counting their steps to get there. So the researchers grabbed some of the ants and chopped a part off each of their legs, because science, and sent them to try and find the food. The amputee ants walked in the same straight line, but stopped well short of the food, even though there was nothing for them to eat but cruel, mocking dirt. Because their strides were now shorter (by virtue of having their legs cut in half), the same number of steps they'd taken before didn't carry them the full distance to the food. But they stopped as soon as they reached that specific step count (it is also entirely possible that the ants, despondent over having both their food and their legs taken away from them, simply didn't want to play anymore).

Of course, to make sure, they had to try it the other way:

Matthias Wittlinger
The stilts were just to make Stumps feel even worse about himself. Any resulting research was purely coincidental.

Yes, that is an ant wearing stilts. The researchers, wanting to prove that their "shortened stride" theory about the amputee ants was true, gave some of the other ants stilts to see if a longer stride would cause them to overshoot the food. Sure enough, the stilt-wearing ants walked right past their food and only stopped once they hit the preordained number of steps, at which point they presumably began juggling and riding unicycles.

Harald Wolf
Getting those on there could not have been easy

#1. Kanzi the Chimp Can Cook His Own Food

BBC

Never mind technology, speech, and gunpowder -- the real reason humans are the dominant species on the planet is because we're the only ones who have figured out that cooking our food is a fantastic way to make mealtime both more delicious and less riddled with infectious bacteria.

But as it turns out, we're not alone in the kitchen after all. Kanzi, a bonobo (a type of chimpanzee), cooks his own food over a campfire that he builds himself. We're not talking about some rinky-dink pile of sticks he lucked into assembling during a random tantrum of throwing shit around that happened to get set ablaze -- he carefully packs the wood together like an Eagle Scout.

BBC, via Youtube
A scout still working on his Bipedal Movement merit badge.

He even lights the fire himself, because few things are more inspiring than a half-ton great ape with a box of matches:

BBC
Although if there's one species naturally good at getting things hot, it'd be the bonobos.

Kanzi cooks his food thoroughly enough to meet health code standards, and he's not just grilling moldy bananas and dirt pancakes -- Kanzi cooks actual food. He roasts marshmallows on a stick and even flips hamburgers, an activity generally reserved for medieval literature majors.

BBC
Based on that expression, he also appears to be working on the deep philosophical meaning of marshmallows.

Look at how intently he's staring at that fluff. Nobody on the planet loves cooking dessert more than this chimp. While he may not toast all four sides of the marshmallow every time, that's still miles ahead of what literally every other non-human creature has ever accomplished.

BBC
Next up to learn is portion control.

What's even more incredible is that nobody sat Kanzi down and taught him how to cook -- the whole thing was his idea. As a baby, Kanzi really liked Quest for Fire, a film about humans discovering fire that features Ron Perlman, who looks like a monkey. According to his handler, Kanzi watched the movie "hundreds of times," and eventually decided he wanted to make fire of his very own, a pursuit his handlers nurtured, because there can be no possible downside to allowing an ape to build a fire.

Kanzi has already started teaching his son Teco how to cook with fire, and presumably the fire-building technique will continue to be passed down to future generations of bonobos. Eventually, they'll join forces with the potato-salting macaques and the spear-hunting orangutans to open a restaurant that will probably have some difficulty avoiding health code violations.


Matt Pass is a writer at Regretful Morning and can be found on Twitter. Ruy Platt's website isn't fun, so he usually hangs out on Twitter. Go there to say hi and pay him a beer.

Related Reading: There's more reasons we need to start killing Mother Nature with fire. Like mayflies who show up on weather radars. Or octopi that are probably smarter than we are.

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