The Loh Down On Science

Which animal is smarter, a dog or a mule?

Can you teach an old mule new tricks?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. 

You know the phrase “as stubborn as a mule”  Maybe it should be "as smart as a mule"!  Because mules may actually learn new tricks faster than other animals.  So says new research from Christ Church University in Canterbury, England, and the Donkey Sanctuary in Dover, England.

Given the same problem – finding the fastest path to a tasty treat – the mules got to their snack faster than either horses or donkeys, especially after the route was changed every few tries. 

Interestingly, a previous study by the same group ran the treat-finding test with dogs.  They found that dogs were more flummoxed by the route being changed than mules were.

Mules are hybrids: their moms are horses and their dads are donkeys.  Just as mutts are often brighter than purebred show dogs, this new research demonstrates something biologists call “hybrid vigor.”  That’s when mixed-species offspring are smarter than either of their parents. 

I’m sure rebellious teenagers everywhere will find this new mule research quite a kick.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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