Ravens work together and punish cheats

New research from the University of Vienna shows that ravens can solve a task that requires both coordination and cooperation – an ability that so far only a handful of species like chimpanzees and elephants have been proven to master.

Ravens work together and punish cheats
Photo: Jorg Massen, Universität Wien

Ravens are known to be one of the most intelligent birds, but a team of researchers led by Thomas Bugnyar of the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna has been able to prove exactly how they work together.

“From the wild, it was already known that ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators. But using an experimental set-up working with captive ravens now allowed us to investigate, how exactly they do so,” lead-author Jorg Massen said.

In the experiment two ravens had to simultaneously pull the two ends of one rope to slide a platform with two pieces of cheese into reach.

If only one raven pulled, the rope would slip through the loops on the platform and the birds were left with the rope and no cheese.

Without any training the ravens spontaneously solved this task and worked together to get the cheese.

The experiment also showed that they worked better together with friends than with enemies. If one of the two birds cheated and stole its companion’s cheese, as well as taking its own, the victim immediately noticed and refused to cooperate in further trials with the same raven.

“Such a sophisticated way of keeping your partner in check has previously only been shown in humans and chimpanzees, and is a complete novelty among birds”, Massen said.

The results of the study have been published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.


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World’s first vaccine for toxic shock syndrome in Vienna

The world’s first vaccine for toxic shock syndrome that can occur in women from using tampons has been developed by researchers at a Vienna university.

World's first vaccine for toxic shock syndrome in Vienna

After testing the vaccine on 46 young men and women, scientists from MedUni Vienna's Department of Clinical Pharmacology found it was safe and effective and had practically no side effects, according to a report in Science Daily.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is the name for organ and circulatory failure caused by toxins in the body, first described in the 1980s.

Having occurred in women who used certain types of tampons, the syndrome became known as tampon disease and its discovery led to regulations being placed on super-absorbent tampons.

Around fifty percent of cases are associated with menstruation in young women but it can also affect those whose immune systems are already compromised, including dialysis patients, the chronically sick, and those recovering after heart operations.

In the UK, the family of a 14-year-old girl who died from Toxic Shock Syndrome after using a tampon for the first time started a campaign in 2013 to raise awareness of the issue. Natasha Scott-Falber died suddenly five days after she fell ill with what was thought to be the norovirus. Only afterwards did her family find out it was Toxic Shock was the cause.

The toxins are usually triggered by bacteria from the Staphylococcus group. The new vaccine was developed by the Vienna researchers from a detoxified Staphylococcus toxin and was tested in a clinical Phase I trial, the first stage of human testing.

The results of the trial were published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Immunisation with the vaccine, which is injected, lasts about five years.

“We are well on the way to having a vaccine that prevents this series disease. However, it will still take some years before it is in clinical use,” explains Martha Eibl, director of Biomedizinische Forschungsgesellscaft mbH, who are collaborating with the university on the project.