Hyenas that think outside the box solve problems faster

Aug 08, 2012
MSU researchers show that hyenas must think out of the box to solve puzzles. Photo courtesy of MSU

Innovative problem solving requires trying many different solutions. That's true for humans, and now Michigan State University researchers show that it's true for hyenas, too.

The study, published in the current issue of the , presented steel puzzle boxes with inside to wild in Kenya. To get the meat, the hyenas had to slide open a bolt latch. Even though most of the animals had many opportunities to open the box, only nine out of 62 hyenas succeeded. The successful hyenas tried more solutions, including biting, flipping or pushing the box, than the ones that failed, said MSU zoology graduate student Sarah Benson-Amram.

Another requirement for success was not being afraid to approach new things. The wild hyenas had never seen a steel puzzle box before. And those hyenas that quickly contacted the box when they first saw it were more successful solving the problem than those hyenas that were slower to approach it. Although contacting unknown objects can be quite dangerous for , this research shows that risk-taking also has some benefits.

Surprisingly, one trait that did not necessarily lead to victory was persistence, said Benson-Amram.

"While those who gave up quickly were more likely to fail, some hyenas that spent more time with the puzzle box appeared to get stuck in a rut and would often try the same solutions over and over again," she said.

Like humans and other , hyenas have relatively large brains, said Kay Holekamp, MSU and co-author of the paper.

"A likely benefit of large brains is the ability to think flexibly about new situations and come up with solutions to novel problems," said Holekamp, co-principal investigator at the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Explore further: Bad reputation of crows demystified

More information: Hyena paper

Related Stories

Fasting for Lent forces hyenas to change diet

Apr 04, 2012

Many Christians give up certain foods for Lent, however ecologists have discovered these changes in human diet have a dramatic impact on the diet of wild animals. In Ethiopia, members of the Orthodox Tewahedo Church stop ...

Hyenas' laughter signals deciphered

Mar 29, 2010

Acoustic analysis of the 'giggle' sound made by spotted hyenas has revealed that the animals' laughter encodes information about age, dominance and identity. Researchers writing in the open access journal ...

Recommended for you

Bad reputation of crows demystified

Jan 23, 2015

In literature, crows and ravens arebad omens and are associated with witches. Most people believe they steal, eat other birds' eggs and reduce the populations of other birds. But a new study, which has brought ...

How gerbils orient in the light of the setting sun

Jan 23, 2015

A light brown remains light brown: For gerbils, the fur color of their conspecifics appears identical under different lighting conditions. The ability of color constancy in rodents has been demonstrated for ...

Snack attack: Bears munch on ants and help plants grow

Jan 22, 2015

Tiny ants may seem like an odd food source for black bears, but the protein-packed bugs are a major part of some bears' diets and a crucial part of the food web that not only affects other bugs, but plants too.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Milou
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2012
Just proves hyenas have the same type of boxes that we have!!! I was not aware risk taking was an out-of-the-box process. I though "thinking" was the more necessary requirement. I guess that is why I am not n hyena?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.