Anything Left-Handed > Blog Posts > Newsletter articles > February 2011 > Left-handed animals?

Left-handed animals?

Recent research reported by Dr Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia showed that some species of parrot such as the sulphur-crested cockatoo were entirely left-handed while others, including the king parrot, were mainly right-handed. The majority of parrots, including the budgie, galah and rainbow lorikeet – are ambidextrous.

”This is probably the first time we see some kind of mechanism trying to explain how handedness came about in the first place,” Dr Brown said. ”It's clearly linked to brain lateralisation. So the brain lateralisation determines eye lateralisation, which determines hand preferences.”

There have been lots of reports over the years about various animals showing hand preference and here is a brief summary:

  • Psychologists from Queen's University Belfast, who as part of their research played with 42 pet cats for weeks on end. They found that females are ‘right-handed' while toms favour the left.
  • Dogs are the same – until they are spayed or neutered, when the difference disappears, suggesting hormones play a role in left or right-handedness.
  • Dogs wag their tails to the right when relaxed and to the left when agitated.
  • Toads are mostly right-handed and pounce more quickly on morsels of food that enter their line of vision from their right.
  • Fish will have a preference to left or right when they dodge a predator – this is likely to allow them to use a specific eye and side of the brain to deal with the threat. To test it out, place an unfamiliar object in the centre of your fish tank and watch which way your pet swims round it.
  • Humpback whales prefer to use the right side of their jaws to scape up sand eels from the ocean floor.
  • There has been a long-running Internet Meme that all polar bears are left-handed but we cannot find any scientific evidence to support it. In fact, one study of injury patterns in polar bear forelimbs found injuries to the right forelimb to be more frequent than those to the left, suggesting, perhaps, right-handedness.

If you come across any other reports on animals that are left-sided or disagree with any of those above, please
add a comment to this article.

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Posted in February 2011, Research

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17 comments on “Left-handed animals?
  1. Mike says:

    Orangutans may be left handed according to this article:

  2. CLIVE WALDER says:

    Every polar bear I’ve aseen on nature programmes has been left pawed

  3. Teresa says:

    My 16 year old female Maximillion Parrot Syd is right-footed. I had a male cockatiel Aireys who would watch her and try to manipulate objects like her. He always used his left foot.

  4. Russell Aitken says:

    Our Tabby female (neutered) always takes food off a plate with her left paw. We have had a variety of cats continuously over the past 50 years, and this is the first one we have noticed any doing this.

  5. Michael Rubin says:

    I saw this email and had to post. I want a Parrot now, should I name him “Lefty”? *smile*

    Parrots tend to be “left handed,” study finds
    SYDNEY | Thu Feb 3, 2011 1:44pm EST

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Parrots, like humans, choose to use one side of their body more than the other, with more of them left handed — or, more precisely, left footed than anything else.

    Some species even try out both before deciding on one side.

    Australian researchers found that virtually all the parrots they studied prefer to use either their left eye and left foot, or right eye and right foot.

    “Basically, you get this very close relationship with the eye that they use to view the object and then the hand that they use to grasp it, and it’s very consistent across all the species except a couple,” said Calum Brown, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, who led the study.

    “In some species, they’re so strongly right or left handed at the species level that there’s effectively no variation.”

    In the study, published in “Biological Letters,” Brown and his colleagues studied roughly 320 parrots from 16 different Australian species to see which eye they used to view potential foods.

    Ultimately, they found that roughly 47 percent were left handed, 33 percent right handed, and the remainder ambidextrous.

    In addition, in some cases young birds appeared to experiment with both sides before finally settling on one.

    “With Sulphur-crested cockatoos — every single individual we’ve seen is left-handed. But when you see the juveniles which have just fledged, they’re experimenting with both hands, all the time,” Brown said.

    “They eventually settle on using their left hands.”

    The idea of handedness in humans is tied to the use of one hemisphere of the brain over another, known as “lateralization.” In the case of the parrots, this appeared to be an advantage regardless of whether the left or the right side dominated.

    “It’s quite obvious that in terms of direct foraging, as well as more complicated problem-solving situations, that if you’re very strongly lateralized, irrespective of whether you’re right or left handed, you tend to be better at this sort of task,” Brown said.

    He added that lateralization allowed much more efficiency, the way a computer with two processors can do two things simultaneously and effectively multi-task.

    “We think that’s possibly what’s going on with parrots,” he said.

    (Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

  6. Hagai cohen says:

    Every lobster fisherman all over the world knows that the lobsters have two claws. one is fast moving to catch fish and the other is slow but powerful to break shells. the two claws look deferent in size and shape.
    It is a known phenomenon that in some lobsters are born lefties.

  7. SYLVIA says:

    Fascinating article. I have a sulphur-crested cockatoo, Scruffy (35 years male), who has always been totally left-handed. He takes and holds tidbits of food and treats exclusively with his left claw. He even steadies his toys – prior to demolition – with his left foot. I also have Buster (18 years male) a Congo African Grey Parrot who is left-handed but his mate Charlie (19 years female) is right-handed. Seems to coincide with the statements made in the article. Buster and Charlie have a baby, Ace, who is nearly 4 years old. ‘He’ has not been sexed but is also left-handed so, perhaps he is male or perhaps he is just copying me – or his dad!

  8. Andrea says:

    Further to the article about handedness of parrots, it went on to say that smaller parrots which graze for food rather than hold it in a hand are less strongly lateralized. Also, young fledgeling parrots were like children, in that they experimented with both hands before favouring one hand over the other. The research also found a correlation between the dominant hand and dominant eye used to scrutinise food. The exception to this rule was the cockatiel, as its dominant hand was the opposite to its dominant eye. The article which appeared in the Melbourne newspaper The Age stated that 16 parrots species were examined.The researchers found that some were left handed, some were right handed, and some were ambidextrous, but the article did not say that the majority were ambidextrous. The article did not quote actual figures. So I’m not sure which version of the report is correct. The findings were published in the Royal Society journal “Biology Letters”.

  9. Larissa says:

    We have a calico cat who is definitely left-pawed. She is an excellent goalie when you slide ice across the floor and she always stops it with her left paw. She also reaches out mainly with her left paw. This would seem to go against the research quoted in the article, but perhaps being a calico affects her handedness.

  10. george104us says:

    When I was working in a fish processing plant i was told that flounder were either right of left handed. You could tell by which way they laid over and matured.
    Being somewhat ambidextrous, I started cutting them the way they laid.

  11. David Aldred says:

    I’d love to have one of those Sulphur Crested Cockatoos – however, I don’t really agree with owning pets. But anyway, on the subject of Polar Bears being left-handed: you say that studies have shown they have more damage to their right-hand paws, and that this suggests that it’s likely they might actually be right-handed. Well, using that logic, a pathologist might assume I am right-handed too – but the truth is that since I hold kitchen knives in my left hand, it’s my right hand that is subject to any (frequent) collateral damage. Might this be an explanation?

    • Ian L says:

      I would also say, in fights between polar bears, the right paw will get hit by the left paw of it’s attacker. Always the ‘south paw’ that has the power in lefties, so I figure the more aggressive and dominant bears MUST be left handed! 😉

  12. Toni Wood says:

    I have 2 Yorkies both male both neutered, one is very left pawed. He will go to the left side of anything to jump up,and shake paw with his left paw. The other one favours his right.

  13. Paula says:

    I ride horses and train dogs and have long noticed a difference in “sidedness.” When horses canter, they have a leading leg, either left or right. They can typically achieve both, though most horses have a solid preference for one or the other, and that also translates into a greater flexion in the same direction. Lefty horses will take the left lead more easily, and when flexing the neck and body, they can do so quite well to the left, but they stiffen when attempting to flex to the right, which then requires more practice – flexing – to achieve equality ability on both sides. With the working cattle dogs I train, most prefer to run off to one direction or the other first, which allows making a circle in a particular direction… leading to the right will take the dog into a lefthand circle around the herd, most likely requiring a left leading leg as with the horse. Going off to the left will allow the dog to circle to the right. Interesting that someone else has finally noticed!

    • Lisa D. says:

      I agree with Paula. Having worked with horses for years it seems like some do prefer one lead to the other and it seemed to me that generally they liked the Left to the Right. She also mentioned stock dogs and that made me think . My old stock dog Gus always headed off to the left and come back to the right .

  14. Sarah Adams says:

    I have 3 parrots: a lovebird, a spectacled amazon, and a yellow-nape amazon. We have taught the amazons to eat with utinsils and I discovered something amazing… my yellow-nape, J.R., is left-handed! I was so amazed when you posted this article, because this is something I’ve been marvelling at for almost 2 years now! He simply will not take the fork or spoon if you offer it to his right talon! He ONLY eats with his left one… On the other hand, our spectacled amazon, Juliette, only eats with the fork or spoon in her right talon.

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