Black bears show counting skills on computers

By | June 19, 2012

North American black bearBlack bears have demonstrated counting abilities, in a first for the species.

Three captive bears took a series of number-based tests on a touch-screen computer, research published in the journal Animal Behaviour showed.

They had to choose between two different-sized sets of dots and were rewarded with food for correct answers.

“People don’t generally understand them to be as intelligent as they probably are,” said Jennifer Vonk, the researcher who led the study.

Although bears have the largest relative brain size of any carnivore, their cognition is not well understood. …

“This is really the first test of a species that has not evolved to live socially to see if they can individuate items,” she said.

“I think we can’t really say that they’re absolutely counting at this point but it does look like they’re attending to the number of items and not just the area.”

Similar tests on primate species allowed the scientists to compare the ability of the black bears with non-human primates.

For at least one of the bears, they found a pattern that matched.

These results are among the first to show that bears may have cognitive abilities that are equal to primates.

via BBC Nature – Black bears show counting skills on computers.


… The thing about bears that perhaps fascinates people the most is their remarkable intelligence. They are the most intelligent native nonhuman animals in North America, and many modern bear biologists accredit them with the equivalent IQ of the great apes, some even dare give them the equivalent intelligence of a 3-year-old human. …


here is an excerpt form Lynn Rogers’ overview of bear intelligence:

Black Bears:

-Large brain compared to body size.

-One of the more intelligent mammals.

-Navigation ability superior to humans.

-Excellent long-term memory.

-Can generalize to the simple concept level.

“Bears may be the most intelligent of the North American mammals according to their brain structure, the experience of animal trainers, and tests at the Psychology Department of the University of Tennessee. Grizzly bear mothers spend 1½ to 3½ years showing their cubs where and how to obtain food. The cubs’ ability to form mental maps and remember locations may exceed human ability.”

Ben Kilham says bears have intelligence comparable to that of the great apes.

A biologists in British Columbia that has studied bears for 20 years estimates their intelligence to be at about the same level as a 3-year-old human.

Famous bear trainer Doug Seuss claims that his brown bear Bart must have been at least as intelligent as a chimpanzee, and according to him Bart wasn’t even an extraordinarily intelligent individual as far as brown bears went.


-Bears using sticks, branches, etc, to scratch themselves
-Bears picking up and throwing objects such as rocks during play, sometimes at random, sometimes aiming at each other (!!!)
-Polar Bears throwing chunks of ice at walruses to bludgeon them and knock them out
-other more complex usage of tools has been allegedly observed before in bears, for instance, Doug Seuss’s kodiak grizzly Bart picked up and carried a wooden board to a thorny bramble set it down over it, and used it as a ‘bridge’ to walk over the thorny bramble safely so he could get to a coke can he found in the middle of it. …


-It is not known [if] bears are capable of having self-awareness, such a capacity is very iffy, about 75% of chimps can recognize their reflection in a mirror, but 25% never figure it out. Self-awareness is no absolute or certain capability, and it is so strange that there is no real certainty that an animal is actually thinking “Hey! I’m an animal! How cool is that!” When was the last time you thought that? It’s true, I swear, go look in a mirror…

-in cases in which bears see their reflection, the reaction at first is usually being frightened at it or swatting at it with a paw, but sometimes bears also appear to be mystified and fascinated with their reflection, sometimes staring at it with curiosity for long periods of time or licking and biting at the reflective surface to test its substance. Does this mean they’re figuring out that it’s not another bear but perhaps their own reflection? Do they ever think “Hey! I’m a bear, How cool is that!” There’s no way anyone can know this for certain so there’s not even any point in discussing it.


-many people have witnessed bears in the wild partaking in unusual behavior such as sitting still for long periods of time in one spot doing apparently nothing but staring at scenic vistas such as sunsets, lakes and mountains. There is very little explanation as to what use or purpose is in this behavior except in theorizing that the bears merely find such views to be aesthetic and “beautiful”.


-In some cases bears care for each other, especially mothers for their cubs and siblings for each other. They will risk their lives, even fight to the death defending their own cubs or siblings from danger in some cases.

-bears do grieve for others, bear cubs wail when hunters shoot their mothers in front of them, and will moan and cry for weeks afterward in apparent grief. Although they may emotionally recover faster than humans do, they are not without love and altruism for others, and are deeply hurt, perhaps for life, when someone dear to them is taken away. …

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