Parrots are smarter and longer-lived than other birds. Scientists recently learned exactly why that is.
Blue fronted Amazon parrot (via)
In most bird species intelligence and longevity are determined by size: the larger the bird, the longer-lived and more intelligent the bird - except for parrots, many of whom live for decades despite being smaller than, let's say, a crow. Parrots also have greater cognitive skills than birds two or three times their size. Just why is that?
Neuroscientists from several universities collaborated on a study comparing longevity and intelligence genomes in the blue-fronted Amazon, (Amazona aestiva) and 30 other bird species including 4 other parrot species.
Although 20 longevity genes had already been identified in long-lived birds, this study, Parrot Genomes and the Evolution of Heightened Longevity and Cognition discovered 344 more genes (!) related to longevity that are shared by parrots.
- "These genes support a range of cellular functions, including telomerase* activity, DNA damage repair; control of cell proliferation, cancer, and immunity; and anti-oxidative mechanisms," states the study.
The study also identified genes that had been duplicated, maintaining their original functions in neural development and vocal-learning brain circuits in the parrot, giving the parrot many more genes that determine cognition and language compared to other members of the bird class.The parrot-specific changes in the duplicated genes were overwhelmingly associated with genes linked to cognitive abilities.
- "...define how the brain grows and how many cells are built,” researcher, Dr. Claudio Mello told NewScientist. “Humans ended up with bigger brains and more brain cells and more cognitive traits – including language – than primates. Parrots have bigger brains than other birds and more communication skills, and they have similar conserved elements that set them apart.”
Genes in humans had undergone similar changes to the parrot that distinguish them from other primates in longevity, cognition, and speech. Thus, parrots are to birds as humans are to primates!
* Telomerase loss is related to disease and lifespan.
Parrots are smarter than other birds. Are they stronger too? (YouTube)