In a tally of nerve cells in the outer wrinkles of the brain, a dog wins | Science News

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In a tally of nerve cells in the outer wrinkles of the brain, a dog wins

Comparing neuron numbers across species could provide clues to animals’ smarts

By
9:00am, December 14, 2017
composite image of various animals

BRAIN GAME  Despite being relatively large, a brown bear’s brain is sorely lacking in nerve cells, while a raccoon’s cat-sized brain is packed full, finds a new study that tallies these neurons in carnivores.

If more nerve cells mean more smarts, then dogs beat cats, paws down, a new study on carnivores shows. That harsh reality may shock some friends of felines, but scientists say the real surprises are inside the brains of less popular carnivores. Raccoon brains are packed with nerve cells, for instance, while brown bear brains are sorely lacking.

By comparing the numbers of nerve cells, or neurons, among eight species of carnivores (ferret, banded mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion and brown bear), researchers now have a better understanding of how different-sized brains are built. This neural accounting, described in an upcoming Frontiers in Neuroanatomy paper, may ultimately help reveal how brain features relate to intelligence.

For now, the multispecies tally raises more questions than it answers, says zoologist Sarah Benson-Amram of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

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