Inside Science's Bold Search For Animals That Can Dance


Finally, scientists have dared to venture where no thinker has dared venture, boldly asking one of the most daunting and mysterious questions about what separates man from beast. Namely: what if bird and monkeys and shit could dance too? Would that be chill or what?

Good question, scientists. (Ok, it is actually a good question because some think that being able to establish synchrony with a musical beat may be related to the neural circuitry for complex vocal learning. Also, I’ve wanted an excuse to link to “Bubble Butt Corgi” in a post for ~6 months). It’s one of particular interest to Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel, who studies the neuroscience of music. So, according to NPR, he sought out a very wise source to try and answer it: Snowball, a cockatoo who is YouTube famous.

As one can see in the above embedded video, Snowball is an adept dancer. But is Snowball’s viral hit the result of some kind of fortuitous coincidence, or is it a bird actually being able to wiggle his bird-muscles rhythmically? In order to test this, Dr. Patel made “11 different versions of ‘Everybody,’ all the same pitch, but different tempos, from 20 percent slower to 20 percent faster than the original.” He then proceeded to watch the cockatoo dance to the Backstreet Boys at various speeds and made observations. He found that Snowball was “off the beat” about 75 percent of the time — but that doesn’t mean that Snowball isn’t capable of dancing. Acording to Noah Strycker, the author of an upcoming book about bird intelligence that features a chapter on Snowball, “The probability of Snowball displaying even as much synchronization as he did merely by chance was miniscule.”

Thus Snowball won the illustrious honor of being declared the first non-human dancer, which also makes him the first organism ever to be able to relate to that one Killers song. But he’s not alone! Per NPR, Harvard grad student Adena Schachner watched 5,000 video clips of animals dancing (welcome to my average Saturday, Adena), and, using the same analytical tools, she “narrowed the field to 39 animals who seemed to be spontaneously moving to a beat.” Her findings:

Twenty-nine of them were parrots. So Snowball was not a one-of-a-kind genius. Fourteen different species of parrot produced real dancers. All the rest (the remaining four) were elephants. Asian elephants.

Please support STEM research by sending me as many videos of dancing elephants as you can find.

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