Don’t underestimate goats. They aren’t stupid

The presumption is goats are dumb.

But a new paper published in Frontiers in Zoology , it turns out goats are actually pretty smart. 

Their social living structure are petty complex, according to this article in the Smithsonian.  

They are experts at getting at hard-to-reach foods (goats in the Morocco, for example, are known for climbing trees in search of tasty sprigs) and somehow they’ve adapted to having a repertoire of memories and skills that have enabled them to live a long time. 

To find out just how smart goats really are, the researchers presented the animals with the “artificial fruit challenge”—a cognitive game originally developed by primate scientists. The researchers place fruit inside a box, which could only be reached by solving a puzzle. In this case, the goats had to use their teeth to pull on a rope to activate a lever, and then lift the lever up with their muzzle. If they correctly performed the task, they received a food reward that dropped out of the box. 

After identifying the nine winners, the researchers then waited for 10 months and presented the same animals with the food box puzzle to test how long it took them to re-crack the snack-delivering code. All of the goats remembered how to solve the problem, and were able to access the fruit in less than a minute. “The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10-months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory,” said Elodie Briefer, the lead author of the paper, in a statement.

The majority of trained goats (9/12) successfully learned the task quickly; on average, within 12 trials. After intervals of up to 10 months, they solved the task within two minutes, indicating excellent long-term memory. The goats did not learn the task faster after observing a demonstrator than if they did not have that opportunity. This indicates that they learned through individual rather than social learning.

The goats did fail in one respect, however. During another trial, the researchers allowed other non-trained goats to observe the smarty-pants goats as they accessed the food reward. But when those peeping tom goats were given the chance to then solve the puzzle themselves, they were no better at figuring out how to get at the treat than goats that had not been given a visual hint about the solution. This could mean that goats prefer to learn on their own, the researchers write, or it could just be that goats have either lost or never possessed that particular social adaptation—being able to learn by watching others—that animals such as dolphins excel at.

So while goats have proven that they are by no means duds in the smarts department, they probably won’t be outwitting dolphins, elephants, chimps or other exceedingly brainy furry or feathered competitors anytime soon.

h/t: Smithsonian Magazine ,  Frontiers in Zoology

Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald/AP




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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers

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