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Page last updated at 08:27 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009
Clever Nature: Class of 2009
By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

If you thought animals and plants were not particularly smart, then it is time to think again.

This year, we were wowed by the previously hidden talents of counting chimps, decoy-building spiders and tool-using octopuses.

We learnt how rooks are clever enough to solve a fabled problem, plants will feign illness while female bowerbirds find intelligent males especially sexy.

Read on as Earth News presents 10 of the smartest species revealed in 2009.

Albatross and killer whale
A bird's eye view of another flying albatross and killer whale (indicated)

Albatrosses are smart enough to associate with killer whales out in the open ocean, tiny cameras attached to the birds revealed.

The discovery may explain how black-browed albatrosses find their prey in an apparently featureless open ocean, said the researchers.

A female chimpanzee in the dense Taļ forest, Ivory Coast
Where next?

A chimpanzee's spatial memory is so precise that it can find a single tree among thousands in a forest.

More than that, the chimps also recall how productive each tree is, and decide to travel farther to eat from those they know will yield the most fruit.

Octopus inside coconut (Roger Steene)
The octopuses use the coconuts as a shelter

An octopus and its coconut-carrying antics surprised scientists.

Underwater footage revealed that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters.

Researchers said it is the first example of tool use in octopuses.

One of the researchers, Dr Julian Finn from Australia's Museum Victoria, told BBC News: "I almost drowned laughing when I saw this the first time."

Satin bowerbird
Showing off his bird brain

Male bowerbirds that show superior intelligence are more sexually attractive to female birds, scientists discovered.

Researchers gave male bowerbirds a set of cognitive tests to evaluate their problem solving ability.

Bowerbirds that performed well in the tests also mated with the most females, when compared with their more stupid rivals.

C. mulmeinensis with decoys of itself
An adult C. mulmeinensis alongside decoy prey pellets (L) and decoy egg sacs (R)

A species of spider builds a life-like model of its own body to distract predators, scientists found.

The spider may be the first example of an animal building a life-size replica of its own body.

The arachnid's behaviour also offers one explanation for why many spiders like to decorate their webs with strange-looking ornaments.

Rook (Christopher Bird)
Rooks are a member of the corvid family of birds

Footage of clever rooks revealed that one of Aesop's fables may be based on fact.

In the fable, written more than 2,000 years ago, a crow uses stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so it can reach the liquid to quench its thirst.

A study published in Current Biology revealed that rooks, a close relative of the crow, do just the same when presented with a similar situation.

The researcher said the study shows rooks are innovative tool-users, even though they do not use tools in the wild.

Golden eagle

Extraordinary camera footage taken by a BBC crew proved that golden eagles are smart enough to hunt and kill reindeer.

One eagle was filmed swooping down and grabbing a calf, while another pulled out of an attack at the last minute.

It finally proved this eagle species does occasionally hunt reindeer, something suggested by forensic evidence and the local Sami people.

A moth mined leaf and a variegated leaf of Caladium steudneriifolium
A leaf damaged by mining moths (left) compared to one faking it (right).

It is not just animals that show clever ways to adapt to life.

This year a plant that pretends to be ill was found growing in the rainforests of Ecuador.

The plant feigns sickness to stop it being attacked by insect pests known as mining moths, which would otherwise eat its healthy leaves.

It was the first known example of a plant that mimics being ill.

A chimpanzee called Sakura

Chimpanzees were found to be biologically programmed to appreciate pleasant music.

Infant chimpanzees innately prefer consonant over dissonant music, suggesting an appreciation of music is not a uniquely human trait.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Looking for a health boost

Finally in 2009, we learnt that it is not just humans that use aromatherapy. Blue tits were found to line and disinfect their nests with bacteria-killing aromatic medicinal plants such as mint and lavender, scientists discovered.

That creates a more sterile environment for chicks, which in turn grow faster and have a better chance of survival.

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Animal magic: discoveries of 2009
30 Dec 09 |  Earth News
Science news highlights of 2009
23 Dec 09 |  Science & Environment
Octopus snatches coconut and runs
14 Dec 09 |  Science & Environment
Eagles filmed hunting reindeer
20 Oct 09 |  Earth News
Albatross cam for bird's eye view
07 Oct 09 |  Earth News
Bird brains prove to be very sexy
18 Aug 09 |  Earth News
Blue tits embrace 'aromatherapy'
14 Aug 09 |  Earth News
Clever rooks repeat ancient fable
06 Aug 09 |  Science & Environment
Chimps born to appreciate music
30 Jul 09 |  Earth News
Spider builds life-sized decoys
06 Jul 09 |  Earth News
The plant that pretends to be ill
19 Jun 09 |  Earth News
Chimps mentally map fruit trees
08 Jun 09 |  Earth News


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