Gerald A. DeBoer
After wandering the desert for what seems like days, you come to an oasis. At the oasis, you encounter a stone altar, too heavy to move, a ziggurat of pebbles, and a pitcher of water cemented to the top of the altar. You’re incredibly thirsty, but unable to reach the water because the level is too low and you cannot overturn the pitcher because it’s stuck in place. How can you quench your thirst?
The above scenario is a version of Aesop’s fable The Crow & the Pitcher. An ancient Greek fable which apparently can be solved by raccoons, according to Animal Cognition. This is the Library of Congress’ rendition of the Greek fable:
“In a spell of dry weather, when the Birds could find very little to drink, a thirsty Crow found a pitcher with a little water in it. But the pitcher was high and had a narrow neck, and no matter how he tried, the Crow could not reach the water. The poor thing felt as if he must die of thirst. Then an idea came to him. Picking up some small pebbles, he dropped them into the pitcher one by one. With each pebble, the water rose a little higher until at last, it was near enough so he could drink.”
Research completed by a team of researchers from the University of Wyoming and the USDA National Wildlife Research Center built a similar scenario: eight raccoons were put in a room with a pitcher of water and pebbles. Atop the water, the researchers floated a whole bunch of marshmallows. In order to reach the marshmallows, the raccoons would have to figure out how to raise the water level. (FYI: The marshmallows were not Peeps—which plenty of people hate for many reasons.)
After some human tutoring (the researchers placed the pebbles on the rim of the pitcher), four of the eight little furry bandits were able to eat the marshmallows. Two of the raccoons were able to replicate the results in a second trial without the pebbles balanced on the rim. One raccoon had no regard for science and tipped over the pitcher to get the marshmallows.
In later tests, the raccoons were given both larger stones and more massive objects but were unable to get the marshmallows. It’s theorized that they didn’t understand the fundamentals of the problem itself, but might have just created an association. Pavlov’s dog associated a bell with treats, raccoons associated small pebbles with marshmallows.
So now you have every reason to incorporate “if you put enough raccoons in a room, you can get marshmallows,” into your vocabulary. (Interested in some more animal-related puzzles? Try and find this turtle among the lily pads or the snake in this photo.)
[Source: IFL Science]