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Pearls before swine: Animal cognition study says pigs may be smarter than we think

November 11, 2009 |  1:04 pm


These animals love food, know where all the best eateries are, and selfishly try to keep the best treats for themselves -- and no, we're not talking about humans. Or apes. We're talking about domestic pigs.

Thank goodness for something redeeming about these porky little swine. According to the New York Times, a recent study in the science journal Animal Behaviour presents evidence that domestic pigs can learn how mirrors work and use the reflected images to scope out surroundings and find food.

Pig cognition is a relatively new area of study; other researchers have found that pigs can deftly remember where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to others. The New York Times summarized another one of the findings:

[Studies have] shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.

In the study presented by Animal Behaviour, seven out of eight pigs primed with a mirror found food reflected in the image. Naive pigs shown the same reflection looked behind the mirror for the food. The study abstract predicts, "The results may have some effects on the design of housing conditions for pigs and may lead to better pig welfare."

However, don't think pigs are the next Darwinian link to humans -- researchers cannot yet say whether the animals realize the pig in the mirror is itself, a finding of self-awareness and advanced intelligence that species like apes and dolphins have passed.

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-- Kelsey Ramos

Photo: Three little pigs, only a couple of days old, have a nap at the zoo in Langenwolmsdorf near Stolpen, Saxony, eastern Germany. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

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