Full of exciting urban opportunities, cities are attractive not only to human residents. Many creatures happily share human settlements, feasting on easy prey. But what makes some creatures more suited to life on the urban fast track?
“Several cognitive abilities have been proposed as being particularly important for urban wildlife,” says Lauren Stanton of the University of California, Berkeley, USA, including situational learning and adaptation to change. But no one had pinpointed how one particularly successful urban settler, the raccoon, has taken North American cities by storm.
While studying for his Ph.D. with Sarah Benson-Amram at the University of Wyoming, USA, Stanton, with Eli Bridge (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Joost Huizinga (OpenAI, USA), embarked on an ambitious program to Get inside the heads of urban mammals to find out what makes a great city dweller. The team has published their finding that the least fearless and most docile animals are the best learners in Journal of Experimental Biologyand they suggest that targeting the bolder raccoons when there is human conflict could exacerbate the problem, as the more docile animals left behind are likely the real criminal masterminds raiding garbage cans.
“We used live traps baited with cat food to humanely capture raccoons that lived in the town of Laramie, Wyoming,” says Stanton, who then transported the animals to the lab to assess their health and how feisty or docile they were. He then injected a small radio-frequency identification tag between the animals’ shoulder blades to identify them individually before returning them to their home territories, tracking their impulsiveness by recording each time an individual ended up in a trap again.
Having tagged 204 raccoons between August 2015 and September 2019, Stanton and team tested how well wild raccoons learned and adapted to change by placing a raccoon-sized cubbyhole in the animals’ neighborhood, equipped with two buttons. : one that released a handful of tasty dog food treats when pressed, and a second that provided nothing.
However, once each raccoon got over their misgivings and learned how to get inside the cubby and get their edible reward, the team turned the animals around, changing the button that dispensed the dog food reward, to find out how quickly the raccoons discovered the bounty. change. However, Stanton admits that she and her colleagues hadn’t considered how popular the raccoon cubby would be, with multiple animals often trying to crowd inside simultaneously, knocking and distracting the raccoon on the console as she tried to get her food. for dogs
After two patient years, 27 raccoons learned to visit the cubicle, 19 figured out how to push the buttons to get rewards, and 17 realized they had to push the other button when the team tried to outsmart them. Initially, the youngest raccoons seemed the most interested in exploring the experimental cubicle; however, the adults were better prepared for adversity when the researchers changed the buttons on the console. And when they checked the temperament of the animals, the less fearless and more docile raccoons seemed to be better prepared to learn to operate the console, “suggesting a possible relationship between emotional reactivity and cognitive ability in raccoons,” says Stanton.
However, when the researchers compared how raccoons coped in suburban Laramie, compared to wild raccoons that tested their paws in a peaceful lab, the captive animals seemed to learn the test more easily, “probably because there were more distractions.” and interruptions during testing under natural conditions,” says Stanton.
The team is eager to see wildlife managers dealing with troublesome urban raccoons learn from their experience, warning that going after more proactive and bold individuals may exacerbate problems, as the calmer, more docile individuals that remain may be the real masterminds of the crime.
The raccoons solve an ancient puzzle, but do they really get it?
Environmental, individual, and social traits of wild raccoons influence performance on cognitive tests, Journal of Experimental Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1242/jeb.244806
quotes: Docile Raccoons Are Super Learners And Probably Trash Bin Criminal Masterminds (2022, Sep 22) Retrieved Sep 22, 2022 from
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