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Posts Tagged ‘Sy Montgomery’

Sy Montgomery had a lovely story in the Boston Globe about studies investigating  animals’ dreams. I zeroed in on the beautiful little zebra finch.

“What do birds dream about?” Montgomery asks.

“Singing.

“University of Chicago professor Daniel Margoliash conducted experiments on zebra finches. Like all birds, zebra finches aren’t born knowing their songs; they learn them, and young birds spend much of their days learning and rehearsing the song of their species. …

“The researcher was able to determine the individual notes based on the firing pattern of the neurons. While the birds were asleep, their neurons fired in the same order — as if they were singing in their dreams.”

At American Scientist, Michael Szpir titles a related article “To Sleep, Perchance to Sing.”

“It turns out that single neurons in the forebrain song system of the sleeping birds display a pattern of activity that’s only seen in the waking bird when it sings. [Amish S.] Dave and Margoliash think that this neuronal activity is part of the learning process — the birds are rehearsing in their sleep by dreaming about singing.

“Since the awake male zebra finch will sing when a female is presented, it seems natural to ask whether the male finch has an image in mind when he sings in his sleep. Margoliash won’t speculate, but if human males are any indication we might imagine they dream of fetching female finches. It’s either that or bird seed.

“You can hear the song of the awake zebra finch at: http://www.williams.edu:803/Biology/ZFinch/zfsong.html.” More.

Read what other critters dream about at the Globe, here.

Photo: Nigel Mann

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I was charmed by Sy Montgomery’s recent article in the Boston Globe on the intelligence of octopi (she says “octopuses”).

The author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Montgomery describes getting to know a clever and apparently affectionate octopus called Octavia.

“Everyone wanted to pet Octavia,” she writes. “And no wonder. She was beautiful, graceful, and affectionate. The fact that she was boneless, slimy, and living in painfully cold, 47-degree water deterred none of us.

“What thrilled us — me, New England Aquarium volunteer Wilson Menashi, and four visitors from the environmental radio show Living on Earth was the surprising fact that Octavia, who clearly wanted to be petted, was a giant Pacific octopus.

“When her keeper, Bill Murphy, opened the top of her exhibit, Octavia recognized Menashi and me immediately; we’d been working with her for several weeks. Turning red with excitement, she flowed over toward us from the far side of her tank. When we put our hands in the water, her arms rose to meet ours, embracing us with dozens of her strong, sensitive, white suckers. Occasionally Wilson handed her a fish from the plastic bucket perched on the edge of her tank. …

“Then, as Menashi reached for another capelin to feed her, we realized the bucket of fish was gone. While no fewer than six people were watching, and three of us had our arms in her tank, Octavia had stolen the bucket right out from under us.

“ ‘Octopuses are phenomenally smart,’ Menashi says. And he should know: He has worked with them for 20 years, and is expert in keeping these intelligent invertebrates occupied. Otherwise, they become bored. Aquariums design elaborate escape-proof lids for their octopus tanks, and still they are often thwarted. Octopuses not infrequently slip out of their exhibits and turn up in other tanks to eat the inhabitants.

“Many aquariums give their octopuses Legos to dismantle, jars with lids to unscrew, and Mr. Potato Head to play with. Menashi, a retired inventor, designed a series of nesting Plexiglas cubes, each with a different lock, which Boston’s octopuses quickly learned to open to get at a tasty crab inside. And just this spring, New Zealand Sea Life aquarists teamed up with Sony engineers to teach a female octopus named Rambo to press the red shutter button on a waterproof camera to take photos of visitors, which the aquarium sells for $2 each to benefit its conservation programs. Rambo learned in three attempts.”

What a different perspective on the scary beast in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I saw as a child.

I’d love to copy the whole intriguing article, but I’m afraid that would not be “fair use.” So read it all here.

Photo: Tia Strombeck
Sy Montgomery pets Octavia, an octopus at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

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