Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hyena Cognition - Hall of Shame

Opening the multi-access box is proving to be a challenging task for wild hyenas. The MAB tests a hyena’s ability to innovate, i.e. learn something new. So far only a few hyenas have shown that they have what it takes. In November, I blogged about hyenas who are champion box openers. This time, I’ll share a little about hyenas who have made contact with the box on multiple occasions, but still have yet to open it.

Bindi – BIND

BIND is the #1 moocher. She’s a high ranking subadult female (her aunt is PBUT, the alpha) and she’s had MANY chances to open the box. However, she’s learned that if she sits and waits, someone else will open the box and then she can use her high rank to push the other hyenas out of the way (including the unfortunate soul who opened the box) and eat all the food inside. In the video MUSS opens the sliding door, runs off with his meat, and BIND promptly comes up and monopolizes the box in her typical fashion.

Clarity – CLTY

Clarity is a subadult male of unknown parentage, which also means unknown rank. Sometimes he hangs out with high rankers but often acts submissive and nervous. CLTY has had many familiarization trials and made contact with the box every time he’s been presented with it suggesting that he’s not afraid of it. However, as well as being socially timid he’s also timid in his interactions with the box and despite contacting the box he’s never tried to bite or paw at it, two behaviors that are necessary to open the box.

Hail – HAIL

HAIL is MVUA’s twin sibling, who is a champ at opening the box. He’s the dominant cub in the litter but he usually seems content to simply let his mother PBUT and his twin sister interact with the box. Anecdotally, it seems like dominant cubs tend to be less bold and explorative than their subordinate siblings. Perhaps the subordinate cubs are just more willing to take risks in order to obtain food! Are you just lazy from growing up as the dominant cub, HAIL?

Princess Buttercup – PBUT

PBUT was going to the be the star of the hall of shame. She was one of the very first hyenas to complete familiarization trials and the first hyena ever to receive a test trial. However, after sniffing the box for thirty minutes she gave up and walked away. I gave her trial after trial after trial including some where other hyenas started to open the box while she was sniffing it. Being alpha, when other hyenas opened the box she also got to feed. Maybe she learned something socially, because after many failures PBUT is now a champion box solver! 

PBUT is now the first hyena to have learned 3 out of 4 solutions. After opening it once, PBUT became a really persistent box solver and is flying through her trials. She opened the push flap first (usually the hardest for hyenas) by pawing it and nudging it inwards with her nose. 

After mastering the push flap in consecutive trials, she used her paws to pull open the drawer in several consecutive trials. Now she’s opened the door knob twice, this was the hardest one for her because she had to learn to use her mouth to bite and pull it open since it doesn’t easily open by pawing it.


You’ll notice BIND in the video asleep to the left, standing up the moment PBUT opens it to come in and get a bite!

Princess Tiana – TIAN

TIAN is, you guessed it, PBUT’s twin sister. She was the subordinate cub in the princess duo and like her daughter BIND, TIAN is a big moocher. Probably because PBUT and PBUT’s daughter MVUA are now masters of the box TIAN has learned that she can simply sit and wait for someone else to open the box. It’s interesting that just being high or low ranking does not predict who opens the box! However, her behavior is fairly similar to PBUT’s before PBUT realized that pawing and biting would open it, so you never know… TIAN could surprise me and figure out how to open it someday.

TIAN looks a lot like her sister PBUT, but she has much paler spots.

Trouble – TRUB

TRUB is a high ranking subadult hyena who has had fifteen trials total with the box including familiarization trials and still failed to open it. She’s mostly a “stand and watch” hyena, but she often comes up and sniffs around the box briefly before backing away to watch the other hyenas. Her mother is ADON so she’s not low ranking, but like CLTY she’s timid in her interactions with the box. She’s not a moocher like BIND, but she maintains some curiosity about the box so who knows how her future trials will go!

There are a lot more hyenas who have made contact with the box and even bitten or pawed at it yet still failed to open it even once. However, for a lot of these hyenas they’ve only had one chance at the box and many times there are higher ranking hyenas present that inhibit their ability to explore the box. I’m hopeful that with enough trials most hyenas will become proud members of the hall of fame!

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