[L]ots of animals “move rhythmically.” There are hundreds of them on YouTube: dogs, bears, cats, ferrets, horses, pigeons, squirrels, dolphins, fish, parrots. They stomp, bob, waggle, nod, jerk, but that’s not true dancing, not as scientists define it.
“Dancing” is an untutored, spontaneous response where the animal moves on the beat, matching motion to music. So the animal can’t have a trainer. It can’t have a human in the room whose moves it copies. It can’t spend weeks exposed to the same tune. And when the music changes, it has to change with it, sticking to the beat.
Snowball was living in northern Indiana at an animal rescue center called Bird Lovers Only. The dad told shelter director Irena Schulz to play it to Snowball “and see what happens”.
Using a computer program, the two of them made 11 different versions of “Everybody,” all the same pitch, but different tempos, from 20 percent slower to 20 percent faster than the original.
They then played each version to Snowball. Snowball danced. The dances were captured on tape, and then Ani, Irena and two other scientists looked closely.
Snowball was actually on-beat only about 25% of the time.
But here’s the thing – that’s waaaay better than chance. Meaning, yes, Snowball was the genuine article, and finding the beat (or trying to) on his own.
Fast forward to a lot more testing of a lot more animals, and the results were interesting – thirty-nine animals were eventually confirmed to be able to keep a beat. A large majority of them were parrots of fourteen different species.
The remaining four? Asian elephants. Go figure.
Via NPR for the full cool story.