31 Days – The Beat

I heard yet another interesting story on NPR this morning. This one touched on how the ability to keep time to a beat might have evolved. It definitely qualified for this 31 Days of Wonder series.

First of all, if you are not one of the few people on the planet who have not seen him already, check out Snowball the dancing cockatoo.

Even more interesting that a bird can dance is that our closest primate relatives cannot. They can’t even mark time with a stick, to a beat. To be sure, apes beat their chests and chimpanzees bang things around to display dominance, but that’s not the same as learning a beat from someone else. As the NRP story said, “Researchers tried to train macaque monkeys for four hours a day, six days a week for a year just to tap their fingers in time to a metronome. But the monkeys couldn’t do it.”

So which animals can?

Scientists have observed that species that are able to keep time to an external beat are the ones who, for other reasons, are adept at vocal imitation (and more, at the link). They also tend to be social species, which leads to the next post.

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