How Much Do Animals Understand? - Tortoise Edition (With Bird Bonus)

Written by Devtome wiki contributor Bomac


Prologue: This is an introduction to an ongoing series looking into the lives of animals. While it is on tortoises, it starts with a detour touching upon other species.

Cold Dogs


This winter I'm staying at a place that doesn't snow, but it gets colder than my usual haunts. It often gets to 40 degrees and sometimes to freezing. I have heard dogs barking, non stop, asking their masters to please show some compassion and find a place in the house for them for the night. I'm tempted to go out on foot or on or bike and find the homes where this kind of cruelty takes place. In a rural area, I doubt that any authorities would come pay them a visit if I reported them, but I should at least try.

I've thought of taking down addresses and knocking on their doors the next day to have chats. I can imagine the talks not going well at all. I'm really in a quandary and not sure what I will end up doing. Perhaps I'll write them letters.

Often times, people believe that animals are nothing like us. Somehow they are supposed to be tougher than humans. Temperatures that we would never dream of going outside in for very long unless we were covered in several layers of protective clothing are the same temperatures that people allow their dogs stay outside, literally enduring a form of torture.

They evidently must think that dogs don't feel cold the way they feel cold. To them I offer this little experiment. Any time they want to know what it feels like to stay outside for any length of time, the should wear regular pants and a shirt. No long johns or coats are allowed for this experiment.

Then, they should go outside and sit. After an hour, if they are not cold, then they can safely assume their dog is also not cold. If they are so cold they simply choose to not stay outside for an hour, then they can understand that if they don't bring their dogs inside, they are among the dregs of humanity and they deserve to live in jail, until such time as they as will be rehabilitated and thus, be willing to find a place for their dogs, cats and other animals in cold weather.

As humans, we are often guilty of believing that animals and humans do not share many characteristics. We tend to think they do not have thoughts, feelings or perceptions, and that they do not deserve our respect and empathy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Smart Bird


If I could find the video for what I'm about to describe, I would create a Bird edition to this series right now, highlighting the video. It shows a little bird in a tree that is using her beak to take leaves off an attached twig. Then she goes to where the now leafless twig is attached to the limb. She bites the twig all around it, until she is able to detach the twig from the tree. Then she goes to the end of the twig. It is thinner than the end that was attached to the tree. She is biting the thin end. The narrator explains that she is actually sharpening it. After she is done with that, she picks the thick end of the twig up and takes it to a part of the tree where two branches come together is such a way that there is a little space between them, where something could fall into it where you would presume it's impossible for a bird to retrieve it, because their beaks are too small.

Holding the thick end with her beak, and using the sharpened, thin end as a spear, she shoves the twig down into the cubby hole in the tree and pulls out some kind of edible substance that she takes to her nest and feeds her babies. She had surmised there was food, as well as the fact that she was unable to get to it on her own.

She then made a tool that allowed her to get it. She successfully retrieved the food as planned and fed her babies. All this leads me to suggest that the next time we feel like calling someone a, “bird brain,” perhaps we should rethink, because after seeing that, if someone called me that, I would probably take it as a compliment.

Now To The Tortoises


We saw (via description, at least) how much that bird knew, but how much do tortoises really understand? Sure, instinctively they know how to find food, survive and procreate, but how aware are they to what is going on around them?

If they saw another tortoise that had flipped over and was upside, would they even be aware of the fact? Would they wish they could help? Would they try to help? Would they be successful?

Below, you will find links to two videos to help you answer those questions. One cynical person commented that tortoises will flip each other over in a fight. I guess it's a tortoise MMA (mixed martial arts) move. He said, that the tortoise probably was trying to flip that other tortoise over, not even being aware that is was already flipped and that she was putting the tortoise back upright.

First off, I don't know that they fight or flip each other over, but I can believe it. For the sake of conversation, I'll even accept it without researching it. However, it's ridiculous to act like a tortoise that comes up behind another tortoise that has flipped over can't tell that it's flipped over and only has fighting on her mind she flips the other tortoise over.

However, before seeing these videos, I might have wondered how aware they are regarding another tortoise being flipped over. That is no longer the case.

Even if they sometimes fight and try to flip their opponent, it's not like that is all they do to other tortoises. There is not only zero evidence to prove such a hypothesis, there is overwhelming evidence on a daily basis to reject it. It can be rather amazing to realize how popular it is for people to be conscious buzzkill, but in this case, it was an epic fail.

Go ahead now and watch the first video and then go to this page to see the second one and enjoy for yourself.

What do tortoises know? A lot more than most people think!

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