HomePLANTS & ANIMALSECOLOGYMirror test of wild penguins suggests they may possess self-awareness

Mirror test of wild penguins suggests they may possess self-awareness

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A team of researchers from the Indian government’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and the National Institute of Advanced Studies in India discovered that some species of wild penguins may be self-aware.

Prabir Ghosh Dastidar, Azizuddin Khan and Anindya Sinha have written a paper about their research into the behaviour of Adélie penguins in Antarctica. The full paper can be found on the bioRxiv preprint server.

Prior research has shown that self-awareness is uncommon in the animal kingdom. And only a few mammals, birds and fish have it. It is simple to test in humans. But it is more difficult in animals. The mirror test allows animals to see themselves in a mirror. The researchers study their reactions at that time.

Self-awareness involves subjects noting something about themselves that they can also see in their reflection. This can include touching a red mark on their own face that they can only see in the mirror. The researchers wanted to see if penguins had self-awareness in this new study. They travelled to Svenner Island in eastern Antarctica to study the behaviour of Adélie penguins in response to images of themselves in mirrors.

The researchers carried out four experiments. The first involved placing mirrors on the ground near the penguins and watching as random penguins looked down at them. The second involved constructing a cardboard corral around some of the penguins that directed them toward mirrors at the ends of a cage. The third method involved placing small stickers on mirrors that appeared to be on the penguin looking at it. The final experiment involved randomly placing bibs on penguins in front of a mirror.

In the first experiment, the researchers found no response. And it was actually a finding because many animals fail such a test when they believe the creature they see in the mirror is another of their kind and respond accordingly. The penguins moved in the second experiment in ways that suggested they were examining themselves. When the penguins saw the mirrors with stickers on them, they became agitated and actively tried to remove them. They did not react at all when they saw themselves wearing a small bib.

The researchers admit that their findings are a little ambiguous. But they do believe that the penguins did exhibit some level of self-awareness.

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