Ciao, amici! If you read my review of I Am Mayhem last week, this post is no surprise to you. I told you Sue Coletta would be visiting, and I always keep my word. Sue is an accomplished, award-winning crime-fiction author who made a huge splash last year with her first nonfiction true crime book. I’m so glad she didn’t give up on her novels, though. She’s releasing book four of her Mayhem series on April 20, and she’s returning today to talk a bit about one of the most fascinating characters. I’m super excited about the book—and the post—and I hope you are, too. Please join me in giving her a warm welcome.
Thanks for having me, Staci!
Crows. You’ve heard ’em, you’ve seen ’em, you may’ve even tried to chase ’em out of your yard. But have you ever taken a moment to watch, with no preconceived notions, how they interact with one another? How they interact with their environment? If you have, then you know those precious few minutes are well-spent—time filled with beauty, love, and awe.
It breaks my heart that crows get such a bad rap despite all the research into their private lives. Hollywood plays a big part in spreading misconceptions. #BlackFeatheredLivesMatter (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
As native birds, we should be embracing crows (and other corvids). The crow deserves our respect and kindness, because under his mysterious black attire lies a misunderstood, beautiful bird full of fascinating, brilliant behaviors similar to our own.
One of the few character traits of crows I’ve yet to use in my Mayhem Series is their ability to count. Since Poe—Mr. Mayhem’s lead crow—plays a pivotal role in the series, I thought it might be fun to share a research study about yet another amazing crow ability.
As early as 1950, Otto Koehler, a German animal behaviorist, proved captive Western jackdaws would only turn over enough boxes to obtain the corresponding number of treats he’d hidden (around six). So, what makes this new(ish) study so exciting? It’s not only that crows can quantify numbers but how they do it.
For years, puzzled scientists couldn’t figure out why crows seemed able to count. After all, the brain structure enabling humans and other primates to count evolved long after crows and humans shared a common ancestor, suggesting this ability may have independently evolved in crows.
To explore how the crow brain enables them to count, researchers trained carrion crows to play a numerical matching game. For each round, the crows viewed 1-5 dots inside a gray circle on a computer screen. The size of each dot and the placement within the circle changed at random. Crows who tapped the corresponding number when it appeared received a treat.
How do you think they did?
On average, crows answered correctly about 75% of the time(!)—much too high to explain by chance or luck.
During the study, the crows wore surgically implanted neuron sensors, allowing the research team to observe the activity of 500 neurons. And once again, crows’ unrivaled brilliance blew their minds. The part of the primate brain that allows counting works differently in crows, but the neurons behave the same—by lighting up according to the number of items they count. Two neurons illuminate while staring at two dots, three neurons for three dots, etc.
The research team found crows’ neurons ignore the dot size, shape, and arrangement, and only extract their number.
Though the correlation between neuron activity wasn’t always perfect. When mistakes did occur, the crows were only off by one number. For example, sometimes four neurons responded to three dots, but the fourth neuron didn’t shine as brightly. Which proves the crows weren’t measuring shapes; they counted the dots. Researchers say their results could shed light on the evolution of counting in both humans and crows. Since similar neuronal processes enable both species to count, the common ancestor from 320 million years ago might’ve also had this ability.
“Surprisingly,” Professor Nieder said, “we find the very same representation for numbers as we have previously discovered in the primate cortex. It seems as if corvids and primates, with independently and distinctively developed endbrains, have found the same solution to process numbers.”
In other words, our human brain and a crow’s process numbers in a dramatically similar way. Pretty cool, right? Now that I’ve piqued your interest, I hope you’ll take a moment to admire the black beauties near you.
It’s research studies such as this that fuels ideas for my Mayhem Series. Well, and “my” Poe, who lives free but comes when called by name. Discover all the ways I’ve enhanced the series with Mr. Mayhem’s Poe, Allan, and Edgar.
What’s I AM MAYHEM about? Glad you asked. 😉
As bloody, severed body parts show up on her doorstep, Shawnee Daniels must stop the serial killer who wants her dead before she becomes the next victim.
But can she solve his cryptic clues before it’s too late? Or will she be the next to die a slow, agonizing death?
With crows stalking her every move, Shawnee can barely function. Things worsen when body parts show up on her doorstep. An unstoppable serial killer wants her dead. Mr. Mayhem threatens to murder everyone she loves, sending Shawnee a piece at a time.
As Mr. Mayhem sits in judgement, his cryptic clues must be solved before the final gavel drops. The game rules are simple—win the unwinnable or submit to a slow, agonizing death.
When Shawnee tries to fight back, she discovers her very existence is based on lies. But the full impact of the truth might become the headstone on Shawnee’s grave.
Preorder for 99c on Amazon
The book will be sent to your device on April 20, 2021. If you’d like to listen/watch a video excerpt narrated by yours truly, you can find it here.
Because I AM MAYHEM starts where SILENT MAYHEM leaves off, my publisher also lowered SILENT MAYHEM to 99c for a limited time.
Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as one of the “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5). Sue also blogs at the Kill Zone, a multi-award-winning writing blog. Sue lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writers two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime (Rowman & Littlefield Group). And recently, she appeared on an Emmy award-winning true crime show.
You already know I’m a fan of the Mayhem series. And of Sue’s. I hope you’ll join me in cheering her on with her latest release. I know she’d appreciate you using the purchase and sharing links, and I hope you take the time to leave her a comment, too. Grazie!