Empathy, Intelligence, and the Intricate Lives of Animals, Plants, Fungi, Slime Molds, and More

Empathy and intelligence have long been considered unique to humans, but recent research has begun to unravel the complex lives and social behaviors of non-human organisms. From intricate animal communication to the surprising abilities of plants, fungi, and slime molds, our understanding of empathy and intelligence in the natural world is constantly expanding[1]. This article delves into the fascinating realm of empathy and intelligence across various life forms, revealing how these phenomena manifest in unexpected ways and challenge our preconceptions about life on Earth.

  1. Empathy and Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, has been observed in various animal species. Elephants, for example, exhibit empathetic behavior by comforting distressed herd members through gentle touches and vocalizations[2]. Similarly, rats have been shown to display empathy by freeing trapped companions, even when it means sacrificing a personal reward[3].

Intelligence is another trait that transcends humans, with numerous animal species demonstrating remarkable cognitive abilities. Dolphins, renowned for their intelligence, have been observed using tools and exhibiting self-awareness[4]. Crows, too, display extraordinary problem-solving skills and adaptability, rivaling the cognitive abilities of primates[5].

  1. Empathy and Intelligence in the Plant Kingdom

While plants may lack a nervous system, they possess intricate communication and cooperation systems that reflect their own form of intelligence. Plants can detect and respond to changes in their environment, such as light, temperature, and the presence of herbivores, by altering their growth patterns or releasing chemical signals[6].

Furthermore, plants have been found to communicate with one another through a complex network of fungal connections, known as the “Wood Wide Web”[7]. Through this network, plants can share nutrients, warn neighboring plants of potential threats, and even exhibit altruistic behavior by supporting weaker plants[8].

Though empathy, as we understand it in animals, may not directly apply to plants, their ability to respond to and interact with their environment and other plants indicates a form of intelligence that is still being explored by scientists.

  1. The Curious World of Fungi and Their Unique Intelligence

Fungi, a diverse group of organisms that includes yeasts, molds, and mushrooms, also demonstrate unique forms of intelligence. They can alter their growth patterns and behavior in response to environmental stimuli, such as the presence of food sources or potential competitors[9].

Mycelium, the thread-like network of fungal cells, is capable of transmitting information and nutrients throughout the organism. This network has been compared to a rudimentary neural network, allowing fungi to make decisions and adapt to their environment[10]. The discovery of fungal communication and decision-making has opened new doors in our understanding of intelligence in non-animal life forms.

  1. The Surprising Abilities of Slime Molds

Slime molds, simple, single-celled organisms, have long been considered primitive life forms. However, recent studies have revealed that slime molds possess astonishing abilities that challenge our perception of intelligence. Despite lacking a brain or nervous system, slime molds can solve complex problems, such as navigating through mazes to find food[11].

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, has been shown to display a form of basic memory, allowing it to avoid previously explored areas when searching for food[12]. This ability to learn and adapt to its environment demonstrates a level of intelligence previously unimagined for such a simple organism.

  1. The Importance of Understanding Empathy and Intelligence in Non-Human Organisms

The exploration of empathy and intelligence in non-human organisms has far-reaching implications for our understanding of life on Earth. By studying these phenomena across various life forms, we can gain valuable insights into the evolution of intelligence, the development of social behaviors, and the complex interrelationships between different species and their environments.

This knowledge can also inform our approach to conservation, as understanding the intricate lives of non-human organisms can lead to a greater appreciation for their ecological importance and the need to protect their habitats[13]. Furthermore, research into the unique abilities of plants, fungi, and slime molds has the potential to inspire novel solutions to human problems, such as sustainable agriculture, environmental remediation, and even the development of new technologies[14].

  1. The Future of Empathy and Intelligence Research in Non-Human Organisms

As we continue to unravel the mysteries of empathy and intelligence in the natural world, it is crucial that we remain open to the possibility that these phenomena may manifest in ways that challenge our preconceived notions of what it means to be intelligent or empathetic. By embracing the vast diversity of life on Earth, we can expand our understanding of the complex tapestry of empathy, intelligence, and social behaviors that underpin the living world.

The future of empathy and intelligence research in non-human organisms is likely to yield further surprises, as scientists continue to probe the depths of the natural world and uncover the myriad ways in which life forms interact, communicate, and adapt to their environments. By fostering a greater appreciation for the remarkable lives of non-human organisms, we can deepen our connection to the natural world and inspire a new generation of researchers, conservationists, and enthusiasts to explore the wonders of life on Earth.

Source List:

[1] de Waal, Frans B.M. “The Brains of the Animal Kingdom.” The Wall Street Journal, 22 Mar. 2013.

[2] Douglas-Hamilton, Iain, et al. “Elephants Reassure Others in Distress.” PeerJ, vol. 2, 2014, p. e278.

[3] Bartal, Inbal Ben-Ami, et al. “Prosocial Behavior in Rats Is Modulated by Social Experience.” eLife, vol. 7, 2018.

[4] Marino, Lori. “Cetacean Brains: How Aquatic Are They?” The Anatomical Record, vol. 290, no. 6, 2007, pp. 694-700.

[5] Taylor, Alex H., et al. “New Caledonian Crows Reason About Hidden Causal Agents.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, no. 40, 2012, pp. 16389-16391.

[6] Ballaré, Carlos L., et al. “Talking Plants: A Personal Perspective on Plant Signaling.” Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 69, no. 2, 2018, pp. 209-219.

[7] Simard, Suzanne W., et al. “Net Transfer of Carbon Between Ectomycorrhizal Tree Species in the Field.” Nature, vol. 388, no. 6642, 1997, pp. 579-582.

[8] Heil, Martin. “Within-Plant Signaling by Volatiles Triggers Systemic Defences.” Nature, vol. 411, no. 6839, 2001, pp. 854-857.

[9] Pringle, Anne, et al. “Fungal Networks Shape Dynamics of Bacterial Dispersal and Community Assembly in Cheese Rind Microbiomes.” Nature Communications, vol. 9, no.1, 2018, p. 336.

[10] Trewavas, Anthony. “Aspects of Plant Intelligence.” Annals of Botany, vol. 92, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-20.

[11] Reid, Chris R., et al. “Decision-Making without a Brain: How an Amoeboid Organism Solves the Two-Armed Bandit.” Journal of the Royal Society Interface, vol. 14, no. 131, 2017.

[12] Saigusa, Tetsu, et al. “Amoebae Anticipate Periodic Events.” Physical Review Letters, vol. 100, no. 1, 2008, p. 018101.

[13] Mancuso, Stefano, and Alessandra Viola. Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence. Island Press, 2015.

[14] Stenuit, Ben, and Aurélien Carlier. “Opportunities and Challenges for the Sustainable Production of Structured Materials by Filamentous Fungi.” Fungal Biology and Biotechnology, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, p. 13.

Did You Know That Certain Plants Do Division?

Plants Do Division

Plants Do Division http://news.jic.ac.uk/


I thought that only humans can do arithmetic, but plants do division as well. I guess a brain with a neocortex is not required. New research shows that arabidopsis plants perform an arithmetic feat to know how to distribute stored energy during the night when there is no light, preventing starvation.

Plants get their energy from light through a process called photosynthesis. This involves breaking down carbon dioxide compounds into sugars. And we all know what awesome byproduct that gives us; oxygen! So during the day they store sugars, and during the night plants do division in order to distribute the sugars at a steady rate. This insight comes from new research done by the scientists at the John Innes Centre and found through the open access journal eLife.

It is vital that plants do division in order to be able to grow properly. Learning more about this process has some implications, such as possible plant hacking in order to achieve higher crop yields. This is already being done with GMOs.

Plants do division during night time. There are certain “mechanisms” in the leaves that measure how much of the starch is stored and how much time will pass until the sun rises. Plants also have a sort of an internal “biological clock” which allows them to guess when dawn will come. There are three clock genes that work together like a seesaw. When dawn comes, these genes instruct the plant to make two proteins, CCA1 and LHY. These proteins tell the plant that it is daytime. During the day these are destroyed, which allows for the third protein, TOC1, to be made. This tells the plant that it is night time. That last protein also tells the plant that it’s time to make the first two, so the whole process cycles again.

According to Professor Alison Smith,

the calculations are so precise so that plants prevent starvation but also make most efficient use of their food.

Using up the starch too fast will induce starvation, while using it up too slow will waste the unused starch. Scientists predict that there are two molecules that encode the information about how much starch is stored at a given time and time until dawn breaks. Let’s call these molecules S and T for the time being. The rate at which starch is consumed is set by the ratio of S molecules to T molecules. Because a ratio is actually a fancy way to say division, scientists are confident in the claim that plants are division experts.






Why Don’t We Eat Insects?

The world population is huge! Not as big as it could be as I’ve recently been told… but it’s still pretty big. How are we feeding all these people? Well, we have the usual assortments of unhealthy meat, nutritious plants and other foods, but what about things like noisy grasshoppers? The effects of agriculture on our planet are immense and largely overlooked. Insects could be a viable answer. 

Here’s a great TED talk with Marcel Dicke talking about eating insects.

And why not? Scientific American has the low down on entomophagist David Gracer who says that

…a bowl of grasshoppers has more vitamins than beef and is lower in fat.

He also goes on to say that

Our disgust for insects is just cultural… Afterall we eat lobsters, which are arthropods, as are insects.

So now that I’ve tempted you, I’m sure you’re ready to try pick up some sour cream and onion flavored crickets from your local ethnic food store. Or maybe you’re ready to try some recipes. I’ve taken the liberty to find a few good recipes for you.

Here’s a site for all things bug recipe related based in Florida, USA.

And here’s a site dedicated to all insect recipes all the time… There is also a huge list of other places to find insect recipes at the bottom of this site’s page.

So dig in! and try to enjoy!



TED Talks- Marcel Dicke

David Gracer  via Scientific America

Florida Pest Control

Georgia College’s Insect Recipes









Introducing Transparent Soil


Biologists have developed a new transparent soil to be able to study roots and root bacteria without disrupting their environment. The new soil is a composite of a material called nafion. Although it is not identical to real soil, the physical and chemical properties are extremely similar.

Plant biologist Laurent Laplaze stated that:

“This is a completely new way to look at roots in a more realistic setup than usually used. It is a major technical breakthrough that opens new avenues for plant physiology, plant breeding and the study of plant-microbe interactions.”

Scientists are confident this new creation will lead to improved crops and the identification of new ways of preventing outbreaks of food poisoning.



The Effect Of Agriculture On The Planet

This is such an important TED talk! So many people, including myself, do not realize the effect that something as vital as agriculture has on the planet. We need to practice more efficient agriculture, and we need to act quickly. Some examples of potential solutions are vertical farming, buying more locally grown foods, dramatically altering our diets, and growing food ourselves. Even in urban settings, more and more people are realizing that not only is growing their own food fun, it is healthier for themselves and for the Earth.


You can also refer to one of my earlier posts, Edible Landscapes, for more information regarding solutions.