• Question: is there any other animals you could test on and see if there brains work differently?

    Asked by KAI to MarthaNari on 16 Jun 2015. This question was also asked by naz01.
    • Photo: Martha Havenith

      Martha Havenith answered on 16 Jun 2015:

      Hey KAI, yes absolutely, and other neuroscientists do just that! Let’s see… here is a rough list of my favourites:

      C.Elegans: That’s a small see-through worm that can both crawl and swim. The cool thing is that their nervous system (it’s not even really a brain, just a collection of neurons throughout the body) is so simple that you get exactly the same neurons with exactly the same connections in each worm. Did I mention they’re see-through? What more can you ask for?

      Flies – Flies have a supercool visual system, especially to detect moving things. Just imagine how fast they are at noticing when you are trying to swat them! And like C. Elegans, they are still simple enough, so you can find the same neurons in every fly. Which means that you can go back again and again to the same neuron and see what it does in different circumstances

      Zebrafish – they are tiny fish, and one of the coolest things about them is that they are see-through by nature, so you can literally see their brain (and unlike c. elegans, they have a real brain) in action. Like here (the red dots are active neurons, and the zebrafish is swimming):

      Bats – The way they use ultrasound to locate things is obviously super-cool, so that’s a great way to study how the brain processes hearing (‘This echo came back 1/10 of a millseconds earlier so there is a wall to the left’). But people have recently started looking into bat language too, as well as the way they memorize space. Clearly bats are good at finding their way, but their neurons seem to use a totally different way of encoding space than for example rats do. Probably because flying through space is different from walking through it…

      Song birds – There are some bird species where each bird has an individual ‘signature song’ and they are incredibly precise about it. This gives us an idea how basic grammar and memory for sequences can be learned by each bird and how that works in the brain. Like, ‘After this tone it’s ok to play this tone but not that tone.’

      Rats are generally considered the more socially friendly and smarter version of mice. So if you want to test slightly more complicated tasks in a small animal, teaching them to a rat is your best bet. They are quite blind though…

      Monkeys: Some of the brain processes that may be most important to understand for us humans (how do you learn rules? How can you predict the outcomes of your actions? etc.) are really hard to study in animals that are quite clearly less complicated than us. So for some experiments, monkeys are the only animals that can go through thought processes that are similar enough to ours.

      Some less typical animal species are guinea pigs, rabbits and turtles. And probably some more I’m forgetting right now.

      // Enthusiastic rant over.
      Hope you enjoy! 🙂