TIME Education

Is Your Dog Smarter Than a Five-Year-Old?

dog
Stan Fellerman—Getty Images

New research shows many people consider man's best friend to be more intelligent than human children

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

The closer we are to our dogs, the more intelligent we think they are, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. But that perception isn’t exactly reality.

(MORE: 5 Types of Friends Everyone Should Have)

The paper, written by researchers at Monash University surveyed more than 550 dog owners. In general, they believed their dogs were socially intelligent and capable of learning social and general cognitive skills. The research found one-quarter of dog owners believe their dog to be smarter than most other people. Nearly half of them believe their dog’s mental ability is equal to that of three-to-five-year-old human children, and of those polled, 73 percent consider themselves knowledgeable about dogs.

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It turns out, those beliefs aren’t quite accurate. While some dogs may rival two-year-olds in terms of intelligence, that’s about as high as researchers have seen learning levels go. A typical two-year-old toddler knows 300 words, but Chaser, “The Smartest Dog in the World,” who appeared on 60 Minutes in early October, knows the names of 800 cloth toys and more than 200 plastic toys and balls. Impressive, but not anywhere near the intelligence of a four-year-old, who typically has a 1,000-word vocabulary and can easily put together sentences of four or five words.

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But just because dogs aren’t as intelligent as humans doesn’t mean that they don’t offer their own unique benefits. Research suggests, for instance, that dog owners may get more exercise than those without canine companions. And walking dogs may lead to more conversation, and therefore more friends in addition to a workout, according to the NIH. Animals are also used for therapy in an effort to relieve pain and stress. And those furry friends can worm their way into our hearts… and cardiovascular health. One study, funded by the NIH, found that people who suffered a heart attack lived longer on average if they owned a dog.

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(MORE: How Yoga Helps to Keep Your Brain Healthy)

TIME animals

You Always Knew Your Cat Was Half Wild But Now There’s Genetic Proof

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Paula Daniëlse—Getty Images/Flickr RM

That kitty curled up on your lap is only one genetic step away from jungle killer

A new study on house cats has found that our feline companions are actually only semi-domesticated.

People began domesticating cats around 9,000 years ago but DNA researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that house cats still have many of the same traits as their wild cousins. The fact that cats have retained the ability to hunt and survive effortlessly in the wild just underscores how little impact we humans have had on them.

Wes Warren, an associate professor of genomics at the university, told the Los Angeles Times, “We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.”

That’s not to say humans haven’t had any influence on cats. We originally took them into our homes to hunt rodents and rewarded that behavior with food. According to researchers, this lead to eventual changes in a group of stem cells that resulted in more docile (but not fully domesticated) felines and produced colors and fur patterns that humans liked.

“Our results suggest that selection for docility, as a result of becoming accustomed to humans for food rewards, was most likely the major force that altered the first domesticated cat genomes,” researchers wrote.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Read next: Celebrate National Cat Day With the Most Ridiculous Cover in TIME History

TIME animals

Study Shows Bats Jam Each Other’s Sonar to Snatch the Best Prey

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Yves Adams—Getty Images

The bats reportedly block each other's frequencies to hinder their hunting ability

The use of sonar by bats for hunting has been well-documented over the years, with the nocturnal winged mammals using ultrasonic clicks to target their prey in a phenomenon called echo-location.

But a new study, published on Friday in the journal Science, reveals that bats also sabotage rivals by jamming each other’s sonar frequencies so that they can grab the most appetizing prey.

“This jamming signal covers all the frequencies used by the other bat, so there’s no available frequency to shift to,” Johns Hopkins University researcher Aaron Corcoran, who co-authored the study, told the New Scientist.

Read more at New Scientist

TIME curiosities

A Squirrel’s Guide to Fashion

Photos chronicling the adventures and sartorial splendor of an orphaned -- and, in 1940s America, a celebrated -- gray squirrel

In the early 1940s, LIFE magazine reported that a Mrs. Mark Bullis of Washington, D.C., had adopted a squirrel “before his eyes were open, when his mother died and left him in a tree” in the Bullis’s back yard. Here, in a series of photos by Nina Leen, LIFE.com chronicles the quiet, rodential adventures and sartorial splendor of Tommy Tucker, the orphaned — and, in 1940s America, the celebrated — squirrel.

“Most squirrels,” LIFE noted (with a striking lack of evidence), “are lively and inquisitive animals who like to do tricks when they have an audience.” They do?

LIFE then went on to observe that the squirrel, dubbed Tommy Tucker by the Bullis family, “is a very subdued little animal who has never had a chance to jump around in a big tree.”

“Mrs. Bullis’ main interest in Tommy,” LIFE continued, “is in dressing him up in 30 specially made costumes. Tommy has a coat and hat for going to market, a silk pleated dress for company, a Red Cross uniform for visiting the hospital.”

“Tommy never seems to complain,” the LIFE article concluded, “although sometimes he bites Mrs. Bullis. Mrs. Bullis never complains about being bitten.”

[Read more about Tommy Tucker in this Washington Post article]

TIME Research

Human Genitals May Have Formed In The Same Way As Limbs

Harvard researchers probe genetic connections between the two

There is a strong correlation between the formation of genitals and limbs, the Boston Globe reports, citing a study conducted by researchers from the Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Nature.

Researchers examined the genetic processes that take place during the development of embryos in various animals, and also performed complex cell-transplant surgeries to see if they could get genitals to grow elsewhere. They partially succeeded — causing genital-like buds to form in a chicken embryo — by using the cells that generally form hind limbs.

Patrick Tschopp, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, pointed out that babies born with poorly formed limbs often also possess poorly formed genitalia. “We knew there was some sort of genetic link between the two, and this could provide some information about where these genetic links are,” he said.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

TIME animals

This Baby Otter Learning How to Swim Is the Cutest Thing You’ll See Today

Oh, my heart

You may not have known how much you needed this video of a baby otter swimming, but the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sure did.

The Chicago-based aquarium has welcomed this little fellow to their facilities and now you can welcome the pup into your heart. You can thank us later.

Pup 681, the name the otter was given, was discovered orphaned on a California beach in late September weighing a mere 1 kg. After some much-needed rehabilitation, the Shedd accepted a California aquarium’s invitation to take care of the pup full time.

“It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter. Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter,” said Tim Binder, vice president of Animal Collections for Shedd in a press release. And, apparently, teaching the world what it means to love.

(H/t Mashable)

Read next: Charlie the Beagle Will Trade You His Toy for Your Breakfast

TIME Innovation

This Artist Digitally Manipulates Images of Animals Into Shapes of Fruit

Food for thought

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This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Vegetarians, look away now. In her bizarre photo series “Animal Food,” artist Sarah DeRemer digitally manipulated images of animals to look like chopped up pieces of fruits and vegetables. Some of her animals include the Hippotato, the Frovocado, the Limon, and of course, the Kiwi.

The series gives us food for thought (no pun intended) about the ethics of eating meat. If you can’t stomach the thought of eating a cute Orange Chicken, how can you stand eating the poor blood-soaked, lifeless body of the real thing?

(via Mashable)

TIME animals

Male Hummingbirds Apparently Use Beaks to Stab Each Other in the Throat

New research shows their long, sharp beaks aren't just for reaching flower nectar

The long, sharp beaks of hummingbirds serve a purpose other than probing flowers for nectar, a new study found.

Male long-billed hermits, which are large hummingbirds native to Central and South America, use their beaks to stab each other in the throat in territorial disputes, according to a study published recently in Behavioral Ecology. The male-against-male battles are part of a type of mating ritual called ‘lekking,’ which occurs in order to have space to mate with females.

“Once a female is in a territory, the male will court her with elaborate displays and songs. So in these species the males are constantly fighting to maintain the best territories,” Alejandro Rico-Guevara, the report’s co-author, said in a press release. “We show here the first evidence that bills are also being shaped by sexual selection through male-male combat.”

The findings suggest an alternative to the accepted theory that hummingbird beaks evolved to be so long and sharp because it helped them access flower nectar, according to the report. Instead, scientists believe that the reverse may be true: that flowers evolved in response to sharper, thinner hummingbird beaks.

TIME animals

Charlie the Beagle Will Trade You His Toy for Your Breakfast

It's only fair.

Charlie gets it.

He may be a dog, but he understands that in this life, nothing is free and good things — like a human-sized breakfast — only come to those who work for it. After all, everyone, even pets, need to contribute. (Hence with Charlie’s whole helping change the baby’s diaper thing.)

In the latest video from the lovable canine YouTube sensation, Charlie quickly realizes that if he wants his human’s sausage and egg breakfast, he’s going to have to do some serious bartering. Luckily, he has a plan and quickly suggests a trade.

This isn’t Charlie’s first time at the swap meet, after all. A few months back, the usually well-mannered pup tried to entice his human sister into a generous, if guilt-ridden, trade when he swiped the toy she was playing with at the time.

TIME animals

What’s This? Just a Tiny Kitten Napping in a Bed That Looks Like a Cherry Pie

You've had a hard day. You deserve this.

It’s only Tuesday. The weekend is still so far away. So, to help tide you over, here’s something really, really ridiculously cute. It’s a little black kitten named Bella napping with her favorite toy inside a bed that looks like a cherry pie. Don’t over-think it. Just enjoy it. You deserve this.

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