Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dexterous tortoise

Biologist Anna Wilkinson of England's University of Lincoln has successfully conducted experiments in which tortoises use touchscreens. Her research is intended to shed light on the evolution and cognition of the reptilian brain. While mammals use the hippocampus for spatial navigation, it is assumed that reptiles use the analogous medial cortex. Red-footed tortoises native to Central and South America were rewarded with treats such as strawberries when they looked at, approached, and then pecked blue circles on the screen. Two of the tortoises, Esme and Quinn, successfully applied their knowledge to a real-life situation by heading toward blue food bowls on the same side as the circles they had learned to peck on-screen. Wilkinson suggests that the technology can be applied to other species: "The big problem is how to ask all animals a question that they are equally capable of answering. The touchscreen is a brilliant solution as all animals can interact with it, whether it is with a paw, nose or beak. This allows us to compare the different cognitive capabilities."

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