Snowball the dancing, Backstreet Boys-loving cockatoo is more than a web meme: he is a scientific conundrum. Bobbing in time to music is a shockingly rare behavior, and even monkeys, capable of learning very complex tasks, find it impossible to get down to the beat even after more than a year of training. It’s marvelous evolutionary serendipity that humans dance, thinks neurobiologist Aniruddh Patel, who has found that our hearing system and motor control are intimately linked. In DISCOVER’s 2011 special issue on the brain, Patel discusses his idea that that animals needed a vocal-learning brain in order to get their groove on:
The implication is that dogs and cats can never do it, horses and chimps can never do it, but maybe other vocal-learning species can do it. I proposed that idea, but it was purely hypothetical until a few years after, when along came Snowball [in 2007].
But more importantly (drumroll), he issues a challenge:
If your pet really does have rhythm, he wants to know about it. “If someone has a dog that can dance to the beat, it will totally refute my hypothesis,” he says, “and that’s progress in science.”
If you think your pet proves Patel wrong, collect some video evidence, upload it to YouTube, and e-mail the link to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will post the best videos on May 1 (along with footage of Snowball shaking his groove thang).