Humans keep trying to keep their status as superior beings, only to discover that animals have more in common with us than we would like to believe. As I prepare for the Blessing of the Animals on the first Sunday of October (the 1st at 2:00, the Sunday before the Feast of Saint Francis) I’ve started cataloging all of the things that I was taught as a child that have now been proven wrong.

I was taught that insects like bees have no true brain, so live almost on automatic. Then scientists did an experiment to see how far bees could travel and still make it back to their hive (on automatic.) They started by putting a bowl of food some distance from the hive, but definitely within range. The bees discovered it, and took the food back. They put the next bowl farther out. Still the bees found it. At the fourth or fifth move, they had to stop the experiment, for when they arrived at the next spot they found the bees waiting for them.

Humans were supposed to be the only ones to problem solve, come up with tools, and be able to comprehend several steps for a technique. Then they discovered 1) Octopus enjoy working out puzzles, such as how to unlatch various locks and maneuver drawers and doors in order to get a treat. In city aquariums, keepers have learned to keep octopi entertained by giving them Legos or puzzles: otherwise, bored octopus set their minds on dismantling the machinery. Crows and parrots make tools to suit a need, and can remember a multi-sequenced pattern. Crows have even been shown to be able to hold off on instant gratification, choosing a tool that will help them get a larger treat later on, rather than take a smaller treat now. That is something most two and three year old humans cannot do.

I was taught that the thing that separates humans from animals is the ability to recognize abstract symbols and connect an image with an action. Then about two years ago, university researchers taught horses how to let their owners know if they wanted their winter blanket on or off. They used a photograph of a blanket, and another of a horse without his blanket on. To their shock, the horses signaled correctly, with close to 90 percent accuracy: when cold, they touched the blanket photo. When not, they touched the other.

The list can go on and on, but I will leave it at that for now! Instead, let’s just remember that at the time of creation, what God created was pronounced good. And in the Psalms there are often calls for various beings in nature to join in praise. We are commissioned to be stewards – caretakers – of nature. Our charges have more going for them that our egos would prefer to ignore!