Link #62: Crows Will Remember Your Face If You Mess with Them!



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Link #62: Crows Will Remember Your Face If You Mess with Them!

The Crow. Image credit: chedder cc2.0

We think that if we remember something then it must be true. At the same time, we think that animals are not intelligent enough to remember things themselves. However, as we showed in our last post, we can create flawed and artificial memories without even realising it.

Similarly, some animals have the capability of creating some very lasting and pertinent memories. A case in point is crows and their ability to remember the face of someone who threatens them. In other words, if you mess with a crow, it’ll remember you for the rest of its life!

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What Do You Have to Do to Be Memorable to Crows?

Image credit: mark sebastian cc2.0

Crows are generally known to have very good memories but these memories are usually associated with key moments in their lives. To test this, some scientists wore a very unique and threatening mask and caught seven to 15 crows.

They captured the targeted crows and banded them before releasing them at five different sites. As each one was released, the offended crow decided to caw at the scientist harshly, a sound that is known as scolding. When the other crows heard the crow’s scolding, they joined in the cawing too.

The best part of the experiment, though, was the fact that these crows shared their experiences and knowledge about the face that tormented them with other crows. This was proven by the scientists when they wore the unique and threatening masks at other sites in the city.

The scientists were immediately recognised by the crows in the area even if they were not directly connected to the crows that were captured by the scientists earlier. The crows started scolding the scientists who wore the mask and even flying at them threateningly before veering away. The crows’ act of flying at an individual in a group and then flying away is called mobbing.

How Can Crows Remember Faces?

crow memory
Image credit: Humphrey King cc2.0

The scientists who discovered that crows don’t only remember threatening faces but also share the same with other crows researched deeper into this phenomenon. They tried to find out how crows have this ability.

They did this by putting a tracer chemical inside the crows and then tracing the same with a process known as Positron Emission Tomography or PET scan. In PET scanning, you essentially look at the movement of chemicals inside the body. Since the scientists used a type of glucose and glucose is important to brain cells, they could map the crows’ brains in 3D.

What they found is that the way crows’ memories work is not that different from how human memories work. For instance, when the crows saw the unique and threatening mask, the activity in their brains pointed to the activation of regions related to emotions, motivation and conditioned fear.

It is because of these connections to their motivation, conditioned fear and emotions that crows are so good at recognising faces. Moreover, what also helps crows remember such faces is that multiple and highly diverse areas of their brains respond to the image as opposed to just one.

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