Raccoons use unique methods to ace animal intelligence tests

Crafty racsoon Songquan Deng/Shutterstock.com

This may not come as a surprise to many Canadians, but racoons are crafty.

The masked bandits were recently put to the test by scientists and came up with some pretty creative solutions to age-old problems.

Eight racoons were put through the Aesop’s Fable test, which is based on a fable about a crow who uses stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so he can easily drink the water.

The raccoons were presented with a cylinder filled with water that had a marshmallow floating in it. The scientist demonstrated to the racoons that if you dropped a stone into the cylinder, the water level would rise.

Two of the eight raccoons replicated the behaviour and got the marshmallow. A third did not use the method, but did manage to upend the cylinder by standing on top of it and rocking it until it tipped over—something the scientists had tried to prevent.

“I thought it was very raccoon-y that one of them figured out how to just tip the whole apparatus over,” Suzanne MacDonald, a psychologist at York University, told National Geographic.

A second intelligence test reaffirmed how creative racoons can be when they want some hard-to-reach food.

The same eight racoons were again presented with a cylinder filled with water and floating marshmallows. The scientists then showed the raccoons two types of balls, some that would sink and some that would float. They expected the raccoons to use the heavy balls to raise the level of the water, but the animals came up with other methods to solve the problem.

According to study leader Lauren Stanton, a Ph.D. student at the University of Wyoming, the two raccoons who aced the fable test solved this one pretty quickly. They rapidly pushed the floating balls down in the water causing bits of the marshmallow to splash up and stick to the side of the cylinder where they could be easily reached.

A third racoon spun one of the floating balls and collected the bits of marshmallow that stuck to it.

In theory, the floating balls should have been useless, “unless you’re a raccoon, and can turn a non-functional object into a functional object,” said study co-author Sarah Benson-Amran.

With problem-solving abilities like this, it’s no wonder raccoons find their way into the garbage no matter what we humans try to do.

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