Who are you calling slow?

Cognitive abilities of tortoises

source: Jeff Hecht
New Scientist vol 212 no 2844/2845, December 24/31 2011
starts p44, 2 pages long

Anna Wilkinson moved from studying bird cognition to studying reptiles. She studied the performance of a red-foot tortoise, called Moses, in a maze, and found that he used a cognitive map to retrieve food from arms of the maze not previously visited. The map was developed from objects outside the maze that were visible to him. When these objects were obscured, he became systematic in retrieving food from the arm next to the one previously explored. Previous reptile studies carried out at cool ambient temperatures had reported poor performance, but Moses was operating at a room temperature of 29 deg C, which meant he was more alert. In later research at Vienna University, Wilkinson found that one tortoise is able to follow the gaze of another. Tortoises can also locate hidden food by watching other tortoises find it. Tortoises, however, lack empathy, and do not learn to yawn by watching other tortoises do this. Wilkinson's work has triggered an interest in reptile cognition, which can help to explain how animal intelligence evolved. New research suggests that animal intelligence has previously been underestimated. Wilkinson argues that natural selection for intelligence results from a high mortality rate for tortoises, which have to fend for themselves after hatching.