The Null Device

Canis urbanis muscoviensis

A Russian ecologist has found that the fierce pressure of living in a hostile urban environment is causing Moscow's stray dogs to evolve increased intelligence, including abilities to negotiate the city's subway system:
Poyarkov has studied the dogs, which number about 35,000, for the last 30 years. Over that time, he observed the stray dog population lose the spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves, while at the same time evolving social structures and behaviors optimized to four ecological niches occupied by what Poyarkov calls guard dogs, scavengers, wild dogs, and beggars.
But beggar dogs have evolved the most specialized behavior. Relying on scraps of food from commuters, the beggar dogs can not only recognize which humans are most likely to give them something to eat, but have evolved to ride the subway. Using scents, and the ability to recognize the train conductor's names for different stops, they incorporate many stations into their territories.
Additionally, Poyarkov says the pack structure of the beggars reflects a reliance on brain over brawn for survival. In the beggar packs, the smartest dog, not the most physically dominant, occupies the alpha male position.
I wonder whether similar evolutions of animal intelligence, driven by the conditions of living in cities, have occurred in other cities; there have been anecdotal reports of pigeons deliberately catching the Tube in London, with speculation that they commute in to the tourist-rich city to feed before returning to the suburbs. (As such, one could probably refer to them as passenger pigeons.) Not to mention two instances of cats deliberately catching buses (both in England).

There are 2 comments on "Canis urbanis muscoviensis":

Posted by: Barry McKenzie Thu Jan 28 12:20:24 2010

No one seems to be surprised that cats and dogs regularly commute around in cars (generally driver by their servants) for all sorts of reasons - including just for pleasure.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/acb/ Thu Jan 28 16:42:50 2010

That's not the same; cats and dogs driven around by people don't decide where to go; they're essentially captives, albeit somewhat indulged ones, and such an arrangement doesn't betray any need for intelligence on their part.

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