Even though a rabbit has a brain the size of that of a small monkey, it does not have the same intelligence level.
In the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz, Scarecrow laments, “If I only had a brain”, declaring that he would face a whole box full of matches (his only fear was a lighted match), for the chance to have a brain.
Without a brain to power it, a body, with all its marvelous complexities, is just a biological wasteland. No matter what animal you discuss, it is the brain that coordinates all the activities that constitute life from circulation, to food gathering to reproduction. Nothing works if the brain doesn’t work.
Within the animal kingdom, brains vary considerably. For instance, one of the most common ways to measure brain complexity is the number of neurons—"Neurons are the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system, the cells responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, for sending motor commands to our muscles, and for transforming and relaying the electrical signals at every step in between (Queensland Brain Institute).” The simplest brain mapped so far, that of a nematode, has 300 neurons. A big step up is the fruit fly larvae, which has 15,000 while an adult fruit fly has 135,000. The short-tailed shrew, one of the smallest of mammals, has 52 million neurons. A human brain has 86 billion neurons.
In general, brain size increases with the size of the animal. Brain size also typically increases with increasing investment in maternal involvement and complex behaviors. That should mean that the blue whale would have the largest brain, but, that record goes to the sperm whale which has a brain two pounds heavier, at nearly 20 pounds, than that of a blue whale, likely because of a higher complex social structure. An African elephant brain weighs in at about 10 pounds, three times that of a human brain, much of which is dedicated to the cerebellum, needed for complex control of trunk and ears.
A more realistic measure than absolute size might be brain size relative to body size. That makes even the sperm whale a brain lightweight and the title of largest brain to body ratio goes to a particularly small genus of ant, with a brain approximately 12 percent of its body weight, or a ratio of about 1:8. However, humans and rodents have a similar brain to body ratio of about 1:40, yet humans clearly outthink rodents most of the time. Brain size and intelligence may be connected, but exactly how is not as obvious as you might think.
More than size though, the composition of the brain determines the level an animal will function at. Although rodents have a similar brain to body ratio as humans, they would not be as intelligent as humans even if they were our size. One difference is that a rodent’s brain does not have as much cerebral cortex, the outer surface of the brain, where complex brain functions occur, that a human has. Also, compare the brain of a rabbit, a house cat, and a small monkey, which are similarly sized. However, the frontal lobes, important for voluntary movement, expressive language and for managing higher level executive functions, are dramatically different, increasing from rabbit to monkey.
Each animal works within its niche largely because of the specific development of its brain. It is not really a matter of which is more intelligent, but how its intelligence refines it for its lifestyle. As Albert Einstein stated, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Given the high number of mistakes, missteps, and erroneous conclusions I have made in my personal life, I sometimes echo Scarecrow’s lament: “If I only had a brain.” As I get older though, I recognize that Einstein was right: finding and doing what we were meant to be is when our genius will shine through.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho