Cold-blooded cognition: how to get a tortoise out of its shell

Wilkinson, Anna and Glass, Ewen (2018) Cold-blooded cognition: how to get a tortoise out of its shell. In: Field and laboratory methods in animal cognition. Cambridge University Press, UK.. ISBN UNSPECIFIED

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Very little is known about the cognitive abilities of chelonia (turtles, terrapins and tortoises). They have traditionally been considered to be “sluggish and unintelligent creatures” (Yerkes 1901, p. 520) and have largely been ignored in the study of animal cognition. However, more recent research has revealed an impressive suite of cognitive abilities in this group. But how do you ask a tortoise what it knows? We will describe the approaches we have thus far taken in the study of cognition in our model species, the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) – including work on visual cognition, spatial cognition, social learning and memory –, examining pros and cons, problems faced and overcome. This chapter will subsequently discuss general issues related to working with chelonia, such as temperature: testing a tropical tortoise in a cold room, for instance, fundamentally impacts the ability of the tortoise to demonstrate its cognitive abilities. Another significant aspect in the study of these animals is motivation (or lack thereof). Chelonia are not necessarily motivated by the same things as mammals and birds and different species may be motivated by different rewards, necessitating a thorough understanding of the species before embarking on experiments. We finish with an overview of techniques that we have used (mostly successfully) for investigating cognition in this species.

Keywords:Tortoise cognition
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C850 Cognitive Psychology
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:29520
Deposited On:11 Nov 2017 18:56

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