Domesticated Guinea Pigs Are Smarter Than Their Wild Cousins
Guinea pigs might not be as bold or aggressive than cavies (their wild, though still fluffy, cousins), but a new study in the journal of Animal Cognition suggests that -- surprisingly -- the domesticated critters are quicker learners.
[Here's a domesticated guinea pig; via David Locke]
A pair of German researchers posed three tests to see how domestication had distinguished guinea pigs from cavies. To test boldness, the scientists observed how long it took the rodents to inspect a strange object, specifically, a yellow rubber duck. The cavies quickly approached the duck, but more timid guinea pigs took longer. Similarly, when meeting an unfamiliar guinea pig for the first time, the biologists noted that cavies were more likely to chatter their teeth, show a curved body posture and display other aggressive behaviors.
In the learning test, however, guinea pigs had cavies beat. Compared with cavies, the guinea pigs more quickly grasped how to knock over plastic cylinders to get bits of cucumber as rewards. That's unexpected, the scientists say, in light of evidence that domestication, broadly speaking, produces less-intelligent animals. Rather than experiencing cognitive decline, these fuzzy pets "might be simply better adapted to the testing procedure," the authors write, able to learn quicker than your average cavy in a man-made environment.
Several studies point out that wolves (and dingoes) are superior to pet dogs at tests of logic and social intelligence. Domestication seems to lead to smaller brain sizes, too (though brain size is an imperfect measure of intelligence). Guinea pigs, for example, have brains about 13 percent smaller than those of similarly-sized cavies. Despite their smaller brains, guinea pigs, at least, seem to have escaped the trap of dumb domestication.