Humans are well known for looking in the mirror and responding to their reflections. Interestingly, scientific research has revealed that it is a rare trait among animals, with only a few species displaying this ability.
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Self-recognition is one of the most important indicators of animal intelligence. Over the years, it has been discovered in animals such as great apes, bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants and fish. There could be more animals, according to experts, but accurate testing is difficult.
Related: Cute Gentoo penguin takes selfies in this amazing video
Now, in an intriguing series of experiments, scientists have found that wild Adélie penguins in Antarctica exhibit some signs of self-awareness.
Scientists demonstrate this trait by conducting a “mirror test,” in which test animals are made to look in a mirror in order to study their reactions and responses. The mirror self-recognition (MSR) behavioral technique was developed in the 1970s using chimps as test animals. Typically for this test a small area of the subject’s body is marked with a red dye that can only be seen through a mirror. If the animal notices it while looking in the mirror, it is likely that they have this trait.
However, in order to identify this trait in wild penguins, the team conducted a series of experiments. Scientists studied the population of wild penguins living on the Dog’s Neck Ice Shelf and on Svenner Island in east Antarctica.
The research paper read, “It is based on the responses and reactions of individual penguins to images, generated in mirrors during three experimental paradigms: a group-behavior test, a modified mirror test and a hidden-head test.”
The mirrors were placed in the path of the penguins in the first test, while the team waited for them to approach the mirrors and observed their reaction. In another one, individual penguins were directed toward a cardboard structure with mirrors placed at the ends of the enclosure. While in the third one, circular stickers were kept on the mirrors. The final experiment had penguins wearing bibs in front of a mirror.
According to the researchers, the results of these experiments are ambiguous, but they suspect that the penguins have some level of self-awareness. More observation is needed to fully understand this behavioral trait.
In the first one, the penguins carefully inspected their reflections but gave no response. In the second experiment with the cardboard corrals, they moved, which suggested penguins were inspecting themselves. Surprisingly, the birds were quite agitated by the stickered mirrors, and they attempted to remove them. Lastly, the bibs did not bother the penguins.
This new study is led by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and the National Institute of Advanced Studies. The team asserts that this is a preliminary study, which was conducted in January to February 2020.
Lead image via Pexels