Turns out the Gollum familiar to children from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was not some kind of elf but a species of savage worm whose strange organs prompted paleontologists to excavate its brain after 101 years of rumors and drawings.
That’s according to Jocelyn Feldman, director of animal behavior at the Field Museum in Chicago, whose research sheds new light on what we thought we knew about the mysterious intelligent creatures from the stories and stories we tell ourselves.
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Feldman had been asked to study the way the ground-dwelling creatures would be able to climb on bark, mountainsides, and at night while walking along cliffs, so that paleontologists could figure out whether they were capable of cognition. Her job was to make use of state-of-the-art neuroimaging, which could show if a population of Gollum-like creatures could maneuver human-like limbs and think about certain things like food and risk.
“It’s very different from looking at those cute apes that look like you and me,” she says. In fact, she says, her Gollum research “more resembles this bug.”
About 700 species of insects are known to be sentient, with some even able to tell off competitors with acidic nematodes. “Just the way their brains work in my opinion, it’s kind of like flying monkeys in that the pieces don’t have to fall into a straight line and match,” she says. “Everything is unique to its environment and its individual brain is each of these pieces connecting to something else.”
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