Recordings from Bright Moral Animal Hotline

Bring friends along

Hi this is Rerio. Have I phoned Bright Moral animal hotline? blob blob

Yes, indeed you have. I am Jane. What can I do for you?

Well I would like a piece of advice. I am planning to swim around and explore the world on my own. How should I do that?

Exciting, but why would you do that on your own?

My friends and family are losers. They bore me. I need some adventure.

Hmm. Rerio, let me tell you about an experiment that some scientists did on some of your zebrafish friends. Then you can tell me afterwards, what your thoughts are.

That is a deal.

I guess you know, that when zebrafish gets scared, they freeze. This happens for many different animals.

I have tried that. That is not fun. Blob blob

No, for sure not. What the scientists did was that they video recorded a single zebrafish, that they placed in a test tank. The fish would swim happily around if nothing happened. But when the scientists added an alarm substance to the water in the tank, the zebrafish would freeze because it got scared. By analyzing the movements on the video, the scientist could measure how scared the fish was.

Uhh that is a nasty experiment.

Yes, you are right, Rerio. Then the scientists did the same experiment, where they had a tank with 8 zebrafish, next to the test tank. The single zebrafish could see the other 8 fish. What do you think happened when the alarm substance was added to the single fish?

I guess the single fish still froze blob blob.

Wrong.  It did not freeze so much. It got less scared. Interestingly, it was not only the sight of other zebrafish, but also the smell of other fish that could calm the single fish down. So, if other zebrafish had been in the water in the test tank before the single fish entered, the single fish could smell them. This had a calming effect on the single fish when alarm substance was added.

What if the fish could both see and smell the other fish? Was that even better?

Right. The single fish almost did not freeze, if it could both see and smell the other fish. A fun fact is that it did not matter whether there were 2,4 or 8 fish in the other tank. Two fish would have just as calming effect as eight. What are your thoughts on my little story?

Hmm I guess I should not be caught by a mad scientist with alarm substance blob blob

Hi Hi that is true. Though I thinking there is also something else you can learn from this experiment. Some animals like to be on their own, but that does not include zebrafish. So, my advice to you is; If you want to explore the world, bring some good friends along. You need someone to calm you in stressful times.

Thanks for your advice. That makes sense.

You are welcome Rerio. We have a wonderful world to explore.


Mechanisms of social buffering of fear in zebrafish Ana I. Faustino, André Tacão-Monteiro & Rui F. Oliveira Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 44329 (2017[)])

Old and slow, but not dumb

Hi this is Jane from Bright Moral Animal hotline. What can I do for you?

Hiiii Thiis iis Niigra – I aaam a giant land toortoise.

I could nearly guess that by the way that you speak.

I shaall try to speak faster.

Don’t worry – take your time. What is your problem?

Well you see, I might be slow, and I might be old, but that does not make me dumb. My problem is that my kids think that I am stupid. I want to show them that this is not the case.

Let me for a start assure you that you are not dumb. Recently two groups of scientists tested some Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) and Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) in both Vienna and Zurich. Vienna and Zurich are two big towns in Europe, where humans live.

All right – thanks for the bonus information. I was just going to ask.

In Vienna the tortoises were tested alone, but in Zurich the tests were done, while the other tortoises, were present.

Okay, you got me excited. What were the tests about?

First, the tortoise learnt how to bite a colored ball. This was done by having the ball on a stick and then the scientist touched the nose of the tortoise with the ball. If the tortoise was biting the ball, it would get food. The scientists had ensured, that the food was something the tortoise enjoyed. If the tortoise was biting the stick, it did not get any food. Off course the scientist used sticks, because they did not want their fingers bitten off. As you now, you tortoises have a powerful bite.

Yes, our bite is worse, than our bark.

It sure is, Nigra. Biting the ball was not so difficult to learn. Interestingly they learned it much faster in Zurich, where all the tortoises could see each other, compared to Vienna, where they did the test alone. Maybe they learned from each other. Then the scientists tested if the tortoise, would bite the ball with the correct color. This was done by presenting two balls of different colors for the tortoise. Then the tortoise had to walk to the ball with the color that it had used in the first test, and bite in that. The tortoise learned how to do this test much faster than in the first test.

Interesting. Was there any difference between the Galapagos and the Aldabra tortoises?

No there was no clear difference. But now comes the interesting part. They tested the tortoise again after 90 days. This time the tortoises were much faster in learning to bite the ball, so they clearly recalled the test from 3 month before. Here is the most impressing part. Three of the Aldabra tortoises were tested after 9 years. And do you know what?


Even though the tortoises were old, being 60, 80 and 100 years, they still remembered the test and took a bite in the ball.

Wauv, that is impressing.

Yes, it is. Here is my advice to you. Don’t listen, when others tell you, that you are too old to learn new stuff and remember it. I also suggest you tell this story to your kids.

Great – thanks for your good advice.

I am happy to help.

The underestimated giants: operant conditioning, visual discrimination and long-term memory in giant tortoises Tamar Gutnick, Anton Weissenbacher & Michael J. Kuba  Animal Cognition volume 23, pages159–167(2020)

The pleasure of giving

Hi This is Eritha speaking – who am I talking with?

Hi You have just phoned to Bright-Moral-Animal hotline. My jane is Jane. Is there anything I can help you with?

I think there is. You see I am a bit afraid that I might losing my mind, going crazy.

That sounds strange. Why do you think you are going crazy?

Well you see, we are a big bunch of birds that hang out together, which is very enjoyable. Sometimes we find these real nice spots to feed. And out of the blue I suddenly feel the urge to give my food to some of the other birds. That is totally insane – don’t you think?

It might seem crazy, but then again it might not be so stupid. I guess you took your name from the Latin Psittacus erithacus, also named the African grey parrot.

Right you are.

As you know your kind are very social birds living in big groups, where you easily move from one group to another. This has intrigued some scientist, who tried to compare how social the African grey parrots were compared to blue-headed macaws. Macaws tend to live in smaller more stable groups.

How did the scientist want to figure that out?

Good question. They had trained the birds, so that if the birds gave a token, a small metal ring to the scientist outside their cage, they would be rewarded with some food, some walnut. This was easy for the birds to learn. Then they put two birds next to one another with a hole between the two cages as well as a hole from each cage to the outside, where the scientist was sitting with the food. The holes were big enough to pass the token through, but too small for the parrots to pass through.

That sound fun, but what was the purpose?

The scientist wanted to see if the birds helped one another. This is seen among bonobos and orangutans, but not chimpanzees and gorillas. The set up was like this; all the tokens were in one cage, where the hole to the scientist had been blocked, but not the hole to parrot in the other cage. What do you think happened?

I don’t know.

Well the African grey parrot in the cage with the tokens, passed the tokens to the parrot in the other cage. The parrot in the other cage, then passed the token to the scientist outside the cage and got the food reward, the walnut in return.

So, the bird who started with the tokens did not get any food?


How did it work out for the macaws?

They did not share their tokens with the other bird. So, it seems like it comes natural for the Grey parrot, but not necessarily for other birds.

Are you sure it is not just because the grey parrot likes to pass metal rings around?

Also, a good question. The parrots did not transfer the tokens, if there was no bird in the other cage, nor if both holes to the scientist where blocked, such that the tokens could not be exchanged for food. It seems like, they only exchanged the token to their fellow parrot in the other cage, if they knew that the other parrot could benefit from it.

Why would they do that?

It seems like the act of giving food gives pleasure to the giver and it might possibly also raise the status of generous parrot, signaling that the parrot is valuable cooperative partner.

So, what you are saying is that I am not totally crazy.

Right you are, and my advice to you is; Enjoy joy the pleasure of giving, and you will probably enjoy a return of the favor one day.

Thanks for the advice. I feel much better about myself now.

My pleasure.


Parrots Voluntarily Help Each Other to Obtain Food Rewards Désirée Brucks Auguste von Bayern Current Biology 30(2) · January 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.030

Ensure Safety before helping

Hi This Bright Moral animal hotline. I am Jane. How can I help you?

Hi Jane, I am Vero. A desert ant.

Wauv that sounds hot.

It is hot, that is why we only work outside the nest for 2 hours during the day, when it is not too hot. Otherwise we risk death and desiccation. But that is not my problem. My problem are spiders. You may know that spiders love to prey on ants, so they build their webs just outside our nests or on our trails.  I have reached the age, where I have to go outside to find food, so that worries me. What if I get caught in the webs, or some of my mates do?

I get the picture. And I do have some good news. In a recent study, some scientist looked at exactly this. They studied the ant specie, named Veromessor pergandei in nature, as well as in an artificial box system in the laboratory. Here they observed how the ants reacted to ant-mates captured in a spider web.

Really – that does sound relevant.

It is, but now the experiment gets a bit ugly, so I understand if you don’t want to listen. The scientists captured some ants and freeze-killed them. Some the ants had their heads crushed, from which they made a mixture.

Ouch that sounds horrible, why are you telling me this?

Well, then the scientists took the freeze-killed ants and wrapped them in spider silk. On some of the dead ants they had added a bit of the head-mixture. These corpses were put out in the field on the ant-trails, to see how the other ants reacted. It turned out that the ants only reacted to ants wrapped in silk and marked with head-mixture. They were carried back to the nest. So, it is not the silk or the ant itself, that stimulates the rescue, but some substances in the crushed head.

But what is the point in rescuing a dead ant?

You are right. Presumably the ants thought they were just injured. The scientists also did a different experiment in the lab, where they had ants and spiders living together. When the spiders had built the webs and captured some ants, the spiders were removed. The ants were still alive in the web. Then the scientist observed how the other ants reacted. Most ants did not notice their captured ant-mate. Actually, less than 1 in a 100, but some ants did, and they started pulling in the anchor points of the spider web, in order to destroy it. When the web was fully detached, it was dragged though dirt to become less sticky. Then the liberated ant-mate was carried back to the nest, where it was groomed and had the rest of the silk removed.

That I like, but isn’t it dangerous? What if the spider turns up?

You are right again. The scientist also made observations in the field, where they observed ants trying to rescue a fellow ant-mate but ending up getting caught them self. Trying to rescue a room-mate is mainly a job for the bigger ants.

Well I believe I am one of the bigger ants in my nest, so I guess I have to help if I can. So, what do you suggest I do?

My advice to you is; If you see a mate in need, first ensure your own safety, and then you help.

I get it. Thanks for the advice.

You are welcome and good luck out there.

Destruction of Spiderwebs and Rescue of Ensnared Nestmates by a Granivorous Desert Ant ( Veromessor pergandei ) Article inThe American Naturalist 194(3) · May 2019 DOI: 10.1086/704338 Christina Kwapich Bert Hölldobler

Busy Brain - Happy Mind

Hi, this is Bright Moral Animal Hotline. I am Jane. What can I do for you?

Hi, I am Cale – Cra cra-  A crow, as you might be able to hear.

Hi Cale – So what is your problem?

Well you see – I am a bit depressed – Maybe it is due to the cold and rainy weather we are having at the moment.

Isn’t there anything that can cheer you up?

Naa- what should that be?

I just heard about a study some scientists made with New Caledonian crows.  They tested what made crows happy 1).

Really – It must be a difficult experiment - How did they do that?

They started by catching many crows. And don’t worry- the crows were released after the experiment. Then they started off by teaching the crows where the food was. They did that by hiding meat cubes in a box and put it on a table. If the box was on one side of the table, there would be 3 cubes of meat, and if the box was on the other side of the table there would be one quarter of a cube of meat in the box. The crow would have 30 seconds to decide whether to open the box or not. Very fast the crows figured out that it was only worth going for the box with three meat cubes on the one side of the table.

Okay - there is no big deal in that.

True – but then they put a box in the middle of the table called the ambiguous box. Half of the time the box would contain 4 cubes of meat and the other half of the time it would contain a quarter of a cube. The time the crow took to decide whether to open the box or not was an indication of how optimistic the crow was.

Yes, that make sense

It does. Then the scientist tested the crow under 4 different conditions. One condition, where the crow had to use a tool, a stick, to get a cube of meat out of a plexiglass box. Under condition number two, the meat cube in the Plexiglass was reachable by just taking it with the beak. In condition number three, the four ¼ meat cubes had been placed easily accessible in one spot on the table. In the fourth and last condition the four ¼ meat cubes were placed all over the cage, making it hard work to get them all.

I don’t quite follow this. What are you trying to tell?

Let me try to explain. The crows were tested on the four conditions I just mentioned and afterwards they were tested on the ambiguous box, to see how optimistic the crows were. What do you think the results were?

Hmmm Cra cra Hmm I don’t have a clue.

One thing was that the crows, who experienced condition three, where the food was easy to get on one spot, where much more optimistic, than the crows who had to search the whole cage for food under condition four. The crows from condition three were much more eager to open the ambiguous box, indicating they were more optimistic and positive.

That is interesting.

Well what was even more interesting was the other part of the experiment. It turned out that those crows that had to use a tool to get the meat out of the plexiglass, where much more optimistic than those crows who just used their beak. The tool-using crows were much more eager to open the ambiguous box, than the other crows.

Right that was a fun fact as well, but where does that leave me?

Fair question. My advice to you is; Go out and use your brain, just for the fun of it. It will make you happier in the long run.

I get the picture, Thanks for your advice – I will fly out and find some problems to solve.

You are welcome and good luck with finding puzzles to solve.


1)Current Biology Volume 29, Issue 16, 19 August 2019, Pages 2737-2742.e3 New Caledonian Crows Behave Optimistically after Using ToolslDakota E.McCoy14MartinaSchiestl23PatrickNeilands2RebeccaHassall2Russell D.Gray23Alex H.Taylor2 


 Do like Socrates

Hi. This is Jane from Bright Moral Animal hotline – what can I do for you?

Hi. I am Sapi. I guess I am not quite like the other animals that you talk with, but I am an animal none the less.

Yes, I can hear that you are a Homo sapiens – a human.

Indeed, I am

What can I do for you?

Well - you see – at my job we have a coffee-break one or two times a day. Often, we talk about the weather or sport, but the other day we talked about people, who are starving around the world. One of my colleagues said, she did not want to help people that were starving in remote places. That made me speechless and I don’t know how to deal with the situation.

That is a tough one, and a bit hard to tackle. Recently a study was made, where the scientists studied humans altruistic and cooperative behavior 1). In other words, how willing people were to help others. They did that, by using a program, the so-called Amazon Mechanical Turk, which can do online surveys, so people can answer from home. This is very convenient.

That makes sense. What did they ask people about?

They actually played the dictator game. The participants were given 20 cent each and told that they were paired up with a person, who was given nothing. Here they had the option to donate part of the money to the other person. About 20% of the people donate some money to the other person.

So why is that interesting?

The interesting part is that if the scientists asked the participants, what they personally thought was the morally right thing to do, prior to the decision about donating money - then 30% of the participants donated money to the other person.  

Nice, so when people thought about moral acts, it actually had impact – How long did the effect last?

After the first test, the scientist made a second test, where they did not ask about what was the morally right thing to do and people were given 40 cents. Still people, who had been asked about the moral thing in the first test, where more prone to donate in the second test.

Not bad – but does it matter in real life?

It does – the scientists asked 1600 people to participate in a 5 minutes survey for 50 cents. In this case money could be donate to Emergency (a charity organization) or victims of the Nice attack 14 July 2016. Again, some participants, were asked, what would be the morally right thing to do, and others were not asked that question. And again, those people who were asked about the moral thing to do, where more prone to donate money. It is a bit like the old Greek philosopher Socrates, who walked around in ancient Athens and asked people what they thought about life and moral. He did not tell them what to think, but they had to figure it out by them self and were helped along by the questions from Socrates.

Okay then – what do you think I should do with my colleague?

My advice to you would be; Do like Socrates. Ask your colleague, what she thinks about moral and, what the morally right thing to do is. The more you ask, the more she will reflect. Don’t flag your own opinion.

Thanks, I get the point, and will give it a try.

It will not be easy. I wish you all the best.


Increasing altruistic and cooperative behaviour with simple moral nudges, Valerio Capraro, Glorianna Jagfeld, Rana Klein, Mathijs Mul & Iris van de Pol Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 11880 (2019) | D


Living with Humans

 Hi this is Bright moral animal hotline. I am Jane – What can I do for you?

Hi Jane - This is Max speaking- trut trut. I am a young elephant, as you might guess.

Hi Max What can I do for you?

Well you see – I am about to leave mum and the family, but I am not sure what to do next. In the nearby areas there are many humans, and they scare me a bit

Yes I agree – humans can be scary, and there are becoming more and more of them. Let me tell what other elephants are doing in southern India.

Super that is my hood.

Recently some scientist put up so-called camera traps at different water holes, where they could take pictures of the elephant coming to drink water 1). The water holes were located in different spots. Some were located close to humans, others water holes were located in protected areas with forest.

What did they do with the pictures they took?

Good question – They took more than 20 thousand pictures of which they used nearly 15 hundred to analyse the behavior of 248 male elephants. 25 of the males were more than 20 years old and travelling alone. 110 were young like you and travelling with their mum and family. The last group of 113 adolescent males were between 10 and 20 years. What do you think they did?

I have heard that when we move away from the family, we usually go on our own or maybe with a friend.

That is so true. This was also the case, when the elephants were living in the forest far away from humans. But it was different when the elephants were living close to humans. Here the young elephants made larger groups of 4-5 elephants, so they could help and protect one another. This might be needed in India where app 150 elephants are killed each year. It is also stressing to live near humans.

That sounds scaring – maybe I should stay with mum.

No that is not a good idea in the long run. The upside is that the humans grow a lot eatable stuff, which will help you to grow and survive, so that you can have kids of your own.

I guess I must look at the bright side.

So true – Since you live close to humans my advice to you would be; Stay with some friends, so that you can help and protect one another, until the day will come, when you have to have kids of your own.

Thanks Jane – that is what I will do – trut trut

Good luck Max


1)     All-Male Groups in Asian Elephants: A Novel, Adaptive Social Strategy in Increasingly Anthropogenic Landscapes of Southern India Nishant Srinivasaiah, Vinod Kumar, Srinivas Vaidyanathan, Raman Sukumar & Anindya Sinha  Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 8678 (2019)

Just do your best

 Hi - This is Bright-moral animal hotline. How can I help you?

Hallo there. My name is Abelii. I have this problem with a fruit tree standing nearby. Sometimes fruit falls of the tree and when the fruit hits the ground, it tumbles into a small hole. I can´t reach the fruit with my fingers in that small hole. Do you have any suggestion to what I could do, to get the fruit?

You can’t find a branch or something similar, that you can put into the hole and drag the fruit out?

I tried that, but it did not work. The fruit just slips back into the hole

Hmm – there might another solution. Recently some scientist made some tests with orangutans like you 1). Earlier, other scientists had been seen that crows could bend wires into hooks and use these as tools. Inspired by that, they wanted to test how good orangutans were to make tools from a wire.

Interesting – How was setup?

The scientist hid some food in tubes, where the orangutans could see it, but not reach the food in the tubes. Next to the tubes where some wire. Some of the orangutans figured out how to bend the wire and use the hook they had made, to drag out the food. Just like crows.

Cool – but what can I use that information for?

Well maybe the are some humans living close to you, where you can find some wire and make a hook.

Right you are. Not far from where I live, humans have a palm oil plantation. I should be able to find some wire there. Good idea. Just out of curiosity. Who was best at making hooks from wire? The orangutans or the crows?

Honestly, I think it was the crows. But you know – There will always be someone, who is better than you in certain skills. So, my advice to you is; Go out and do you best, and don’t worry about somebody doing it better than you.

Thanks for the advice – It makes sense. I will head down to the plantation and see if I can find some wire.



Spontaneous innovation of hook-bending and unbending in orangutans (Pongo abelii) I. B. Laumer, J. Call, T. Bugnyar & A. M. I. Auersperg Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 16518 (2018) |


Step up – Stepfather

Hi- This is Jane from Bright Moral Animal hotline. What can I do for you?

Hi - This is Labiata here – I am a male bee of the kind called Ceratina nigrolabiata – sumsum.

Yes - I could nearly guess that. What is the reason you called us?

Well you see, we are a special kind of bees that pair up - two and two. This is unusual for bees- I know. But, I found this wonderful female bee, and now I want to move in at her place.

Wonderful – and is she okay with that?

Absolutely – she would love it. My problem is that she already has some kids, and I am a bit worried that she hangs around with other males.

I get your problem, and I will try to ease your worries.

That would be great – I am listening.

Just recently I read an article from some Czech scientists, who had studied your kind of bees out in the field 1). They had made some artificial nests by cutting some twigs, so the bees could enter the twig from the cut site. Off the nearly five hundred nests they made, almost 90 % of the nests were populated with a pair of bees, male and female.

Impressing – How did they test all those couples?

Good question – They followed the bees over a number of years. What the scientists saw was that the male bees protected the nest from ants and other insects, while the females went out for food. This was not so surprising.

No, I guess not. So, did any surprising things happen?

Yes, there did. The male bee usually only stayed for a weeks’ time and then left everything - also his kids. Shortly after a new male moved in. He would then take over the responsibility of all the kids. In only 10 % of the time did the males take care of their own kids. Mostly they took care of the other kids.

How did the scientists figure that out?

They made genetic tests of the parents and the kids, to figure out who belonged to who.

Wauv – and none off the couples stayed together?

Actually, in rare cases the male and female stayed together until the kids left home. On average all the males had 3-4 kids, but they seldom took care of their own.

Did the females need the males at all?

Yes, they did – Otherwise the female could not venture far away for food, without risking that the kids were taken by other insects.

I hope I can stick together with my girlfriend forever, but what if I can’t?

 That is a good question and there is a high risk that it will not happen. My advice to you would be; Step up to the stepfather role – take care of the kids that are entrusted to you as were they your own, even though they are not. There is a good chance that another stepfather is taking good care of your kids.

Thanks for your advice – I will keep that in mind, when I take on the Step-father role.

I am glad to hear that– wish you all the best.

1)     Polyandrous bee provides extended offspring care biparentally as an alternative to monandry based eusociality. Michael Mikát, Lukáš Janošík, Kateřina Černá, Eva Matoušková, Jiří Hadrava, Vít Bureš, and Jakub Straka PNAS March 26, 2019 116 (13) 6238-6243; first published March 11, 2019

Take responsibility

Hi this is Bright moral animal. I am Jane. What can I do for you?

This is Atta here. I belong to a group of ants called the leaf-cutters. What I have heard is that we go out in the woods and cut leaf’s which we bring back to the colony. I am very young, so I haven’t tried it yet. My worry is that nobody seems to be in charge of our work.

Hi Atta – well you don’t need to worry. Let me tell you why.

Please do – Jane.

Recently, there came an article, where some scientists studied different leaf cutter ants in both the laboratory and in the wild 1). In the laboratory they had made a big system with a pair of colonies of Atta vollenweideri leaf cutter ants, so they could do some tests. In one part of the system was the colony and in other parts were the fresh leaf’s, that the ants needed. In between were some tubes connecting the places.

Hmm what was the purpose in that?

Well the scientists tested how the ants behaved, when passing along the trails in the tube. They put 10 small papers across the path, which was 8 cm wide. If the papers laid flat on the path, the ants just passed over. If the papers contained added sugar-water the ants took the papers to the colony. If the papers had been drawn with a speed marker, the ants moved them to the side, possibly because of the solvent-odor. But that is not really the interesting part.

Okay what is the interesting part?

The scientist folded the unmarked small papers, so they were standing instead of being flat. Then the ants started moving the papers from the trail. If the paper was moved more than 5 mm, it was considered a removal. All this was seen either by a camera or by human eyes. The results were nearly the same. What do you think the result was?

I have no idea.

Fair enough – What was seen, was that the ants moved on average 8 papers clearing the trail within 30 minutes. Interestingly most ants just moved one paper, but a small group of approximately 20% moved on average nearly 3 papers each from the trail. This was regardless whether they were coming from the colony or going to the colony. Nearly the same experiments were carried out in the forest on the ant species Atta cephalotes. Again, the paper obstacles were removed. This was not done by the ants carrying leaves. The experiments were also simulated on a computer, where the simulated results fitted the obtained data. Do you know what the data indicates?

Damm, that is a hard question – again I have no idea.

Well the simple explanation is that the ants just removed the papers, when they encountered it, without having to be recruited by other ants or a boss. The ants, taking on average nearly 3 papers, might have been a special task force, but they also did the job on their own accord.

So, what are you trying to tell me?

Well Atta - my advice to you is; Don’t wait for orders, Take responsibility.

Okay - I understand what you are saying, and I will do my best to act responsible.


Proceedings of the royal society B Infrastructure construction without information exchange: the trail clearing mechanism in Atta leafcutter ants Thomas Bochynek, Martin Burd, Christoph Kleineidam Bernd Meyer Published:23 January 2019

Collaborate to Gain

Hi This is Bright-Moral-animal hotline.  I am Jane. What can I do for you?

My name is Pan. My problem is that a friend of mine wants me to help him, but I am not sure it is worth it.

Could you give me some more details of the problem?

Well you see, we have a fruittree nearby, where you can pick the low hanging fruits, just standing on the ground. But when you do take a fruit, the branch becomes lighter, and then it is hard to get the next fruit.

Can you not climb onto the branch?

No, I am too heavy for those branches. So, then my friend suggests that I pull down the branch, and then he takes as many fruits as he can reach. But that takes time and I am not patient. What if he takes all the fruit?

I get your point. I just read about how some scientist tested some of your chimpanzee friends (Pan troglodytes), which might interest you 1). The chimps were very skilled, so they knew how to read a lexigram, meaning they understood the meaning of pictures and they were skilled in exchanging a token with a human to obtain food.

Cool – they sound bright.

They are. This time the game had changed slightly, so if a chimpanzee moved a token to another ape in the next cage, it would obtain some more food in a bowl outside the cage. And if the chimp in the other cage moved the token back to the first ape, it would also get some food. When the apes continued this game, the amount of food grew. But they did not get the food straight away. Not until one of the chimpanzees passed the token to the human, but then the game stopped.

Okay so what you say is; as long as they passed the token, they got more food, but they could not eat it straightaway. What if they were hungry?

They were well feed, and what they got, was sweet candy M&M´s. Very delicious. What do you think happened?

I guess they tried to get as much as possible.

Exactly. The chimpanzees continued to pass the token to each other until the human stopped adding M&M in their bowls. When chimpanzees figured that out, they passed the token to the human and got their candy. The scientists also changed the partners, so the chimpanzees engaged with other chimpanzees. Here the scientists saw the same. The chimpanzees collaborated to get as much as possible, without stopping.

Wauv they were patient.

Indeed. The scientist also tried the same experiment, where it was a machine that gave the food, and the chimpanzees could stop the experiment by taking the bowl. Still, the apes continued collaborating by transferring the token to each other until the food stopped coming.

Okay I think I get the picture.

I guess you do, so my suggestion to you would be; Collaborate to get the largest gain you can.

Thanks - I will go out and get the fruits with my friend.

Great – enjoy the fruit.


1) Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) Transfer Tokens Repeatedly with a Partner to Accumulate Rewards in a Self-Control Task Audrey E. Parrish,1,2,* Bonnie M. Perdue,1 Theodore A. Evans,1 and Michael J. Beran1  Anim Cogn. 2013 Jul; 16(4): 627–636.


Hi This is Bright Moral Animal Hotline. What can I do for you?

Hi Sorry if I sound confused right now. I have this mystery. Maybe you can solve it. Blop blop

Maybe I can – Please tell me some more. What is the mystery about?

Well you see – I am fish – a cleaner fish. My friends call me Wras. Close to where I run my cleaner station, there is a cliff that is very flat and shiny. When I pass the cliff, it seems like there is a cleaner fish swimming in the cliff. Am I going crazy, or what is happening?

No don’t worry. You are not going crazy. It is actually your own reflection you see.

Really – I did not know that I could do that.

Well recently some scientists made an experiment on some cleaner fishes (Labrodides dimidiatus) 1) . Here they put a mirror in front of the fishes – like the cliff you have. First the fishes attacked the mirror because they thought it was an intruder. Then after a few days they started making funny movements, as if they were trying to figure out what was going on. And after 5 days they just spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. All this did not happen when the mirror was covered.

Maybe I should go and make funny movements in front of the cliff. Blop blop - How did the scientist figure out that the fishes knew they were watching them self?

Good question- Wras. They put a colored spot on the side of the fish. The spot could only be seen using the mirror. When the fish saw the spot in the mirror, they apparently knew that the spot was on the side of their body. This was seen, by the way the fishes tried to scrape off the spot by rubbing the color-spot on a cliff or on some sand.

Interesting – but maybe they could feel the spot.

Clever thought, but no. If the spot was color-less, the fishes did not try to remove it, because they could not see it in the mirror. Likewise, if there was no mirror, they did not try to move the colored spot. So, it seems that the cleaner fish realized they were watching them self. They were self-aware.

Cooool- I got to swim over to the cliff and check myself out. See how I look and make some funny moves.

Well I understand if you want to look more at yourself but let me just tell about a young guy named Narcissus, who was extremely beautiful. One day he stops at a lake and looks at his own reflection in the water. He can’t stop doing that, so he finally dies there and turns in to a flower.

Oh that was sad. What do you suggest then?

My advice to you would be; Don’t focus to much on how you look. Either you will get too absorbed in yourself and won’t get along with other fishes, or you just get depressed. But you can use the cliff to check that you don’t have any skin-infections.

Okidoki I get the picture – thanks for your advice. I am so happy, that I am not going nuts blop blop

You are welcome.


Cleaner wrasse pass the mark test. What are the implications for consciousness and self-awareness testing in animals?

Masanori Kohda,  Hatta Takashi, Tmohiro Takeyama, Satoshi Awata, Hirokazu Tanaka, Jun-ya Asai, Alex Jordan


Short cut or not

 HI This is Bright-moral-animal hotline. I am Jane. What can I do for you?

Hi Jane, this is Ponera. I am about to grow up to become an ant-scout, and I need a piece of advice.

Okay – please tell me a bit about the work you are expected to do.

Well see – I must go out and look for termite colonies, which we can raid and bring the food back to our colony. Personally, I think I am quite smart, but also a bit lazy, so I like to make short cuts. But when I tell this to the older scouts, they smile at me, as if they now better. Should I just ignore them, or prove them that I am right?

There are many sides to this - Ponera. I assume you are a Megaponera analis ant, that goes hunting for termites. As an ant-scout, you are working on your own. You alone have to find the best way for the hunting party to take, in order to get to the termite colony. This is quite a responsibility, where you don’t want to waste your friends time and energy. You must find new trails all the time, because the old ones can’t be used, when the termites are gone.

True – That is why I think it is a good idea to make short cuts.

Hmm Not quite. Let me tell you about some experiments that were made recently in Cote d´Ivoiry 1). Here some scientist had studied some of your friends. They identified 8 colonies of M. analis. Then they cut the grass and scattered some hay in a 20 meter radius from the colony, so the surroundings look approximately the same for all the colonies.

What was the point in that?

Well you see, then the scientist monitored, which route the raids took to find the nests of the termites and measured how long time it took to get there. After having done this, they cut four “highways” in the grass 20 meters long and 30 cm in width, going either north, east, south and west. Again, the scientist monitored the path of the raid parties, as well as the time spend on going on these parties.

Cool, what was the outcome of that?

The interesting thing was that quite a number of the raid parties took the “high way”, at least part of the way, even though the route was longer. Can you guess why?

No - That does not make sense.

Well it does, because they saved time. The travelling speed was nearly twice as fast on the road as compared to the travelling speed in the grass.

Okay I get the point – I thinking.

Another interesting thing was that when the scientist did the same type of observation some weeks later, the “highways” were used twice as much as when the roads had just been made. So, the ants learned by experience, that there was a benefit in using the roads. This was not because the ants used pheromones to make a smell-track, like other ants do. Hunting ants don’t do that.

Okay – so what would you advise me to do as a scout ant?

My advice to you would be; Think, before you make a short-cut. Often short-cuts will be turn out to be a waste of time. Taking a longer route might actually be faster. When you are a young scout, this will probably happen from time to time, but you will gain experience as you do it several times, so don’t worry to much. You will get there.

Thanks for your advice. I will do my best and keep that in mind.


1)     Time optimized path-choice in the termite hunting ant Megaponera analis, Erik T. Frank, PhilipJanep O. Hönle, K. Eduard Linsenmair, Journal of Experimental Biology 2018 : jeb.174854 doi: 10.1242/jeb.174854 Published 10 May 2018


Feel unfairly treated

Hi Is this Bright moral animal hotline?

Yes, it is. What can I do for you?

My name is Cebus, and I have a bit of a problem; that is my temper. When I feel that something is unfair I get angry, which my friends find annoying. Should I just let unfairness pass, as nothing happened?

Good question. I assume that you are a capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) – right?

So true. HooHoo

Well a few years ago some scientist tested some capuchin monkeys on how they reacted to unfairness, or “inequity aversion” as they call it 1).

How did they do that?

Well the scientist had two monkeys, one in each cage. In front of the cages were 2 boxes with food. Only one of the monkeys – the so-called Operator, could reach the boxes and drag them to the cages, so they get the food. Two different situations were tested. One situation, where both monkeys would get the same food, and one situation where the operator would get less food than the other monkey.

Ooh dear what happened? I know I would get angry in the last situation.

Well that is actually what happened. When both got the same amount of food, there was no problem. The operator would drag the boxes to the caves. On the other hand, if there was less food in the Operators box, than in the other box, the operator would more often refrain from dragging the boxes to the cages. It would rather not have food, than give the monkey in the other cages extra food.

I totally get that. That would piss me off as well. I would rather starve.

Another interesting observation was that if there was no monkey in the other cages, the operator did not care, if there was more food in the other box. It would still drag the boxes to the cages, so that it could get the food. So, it was only when there was somebody in the other cage, that the operator got the feeling of unfairness.

Hmm that is funny, but I guess it makes sense. It is hard to feel unfairly treated if there is nobody to compare too. So, what you are saying is that it is okay for me to get angry in these situations?

Well partly. What I would say is this; You shall speak against unfairness, but I would add that you should speak in a way that makes the others listen and think. That does not happen if you just get angry and scream.

I get your point. Next time I feel unfairly treated, I will tell them why I feel unfairly treated, and hope that they can understand my point of view.

That is such a good idea. I wish you all the best.

Thank you for the talk.

You are welcome.

1)     Fletcher GE1., Am J Primatol. 2008 Sep;70(9):901-5. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20576. Attending to the outcome of others: Disadvantageous inequity aversion in male capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella).

Warning friends and family


Hi - is this bright moral animal hotline?

 It sure is. What can I do for you?

 My name is Glodyt and I am a young chimpanzee. I would like to hear your opinion regarding my problem. My friends and family thinks that my pranks are dangerous, and that I should grow up - hohoho.

 So, what do you do, to make them say that?

 For example, if I see something dangerous, like a lion, I don’t say anything. Then I just wait and watch to see how scared they get. That is so funny.

 Hmm that is not very nice of you. Actually, I don’t think you do it to make fun. I think you are scared, that by warning your friends and family, you risk that the lion might spot you. And that is a genuine risk.

Well - that might be partly true.

 Would you like to be eaten by a lion, just because your friends did not warn you?

 No, not really.

 See you got to grow up and take responsibility.