Building and the Evolution of Intelligence
by James Gould
THE ENGINEERING SKILL that goes into a beaver dam rivals the elegant calculations that built the pyramids and the Panama Canal. Furry rodents with paddle tails and oversized incisors gauge flow rates and stress, fell trees and cut them to size, and build roads and excavate canals to float the logs and branches to the construction site. They erect custom designed multipurpose underwater
bunkers and keep the water level just right, adjusting the flow and stopping leaks without the aid of opposable thumbs or even fingers.
In the winter, when ice covers their ponds, they drain off just enough to make a breathing space beneath the ice ceiling. Given their size and lineage, beavers put humans to shame when it comes to architecture. Their accomplishments raise issues of planning and awareness that are quite new to scientific discourse. And it doesn’t stop with the beavers: animals of many orders, from primates to arthropods, build homes, traps, climate-control systems, civil engineering projects, fashion-show runways, and nurseries out of paper, silk, adobe, wax, clay, sticks, grass, fibers, or lichen. Some of their construction is guided wholly by instinct, some benefits from practice, some even suggests insight and, in some instances, a kind of innovation that seems to require the understanding needed to deal with unforeseen situations and problems.
Updated 22/05/2013 Enjoy!