Sunday 10 August 2014

Tortoises master the tablet

by Daisy Dunne

A team of tortoises from the University of Lincoln have successfully learnt to use touchscreen technology to win treats from scientists, who hope to learn more about the reptile's unique method of processing spatial navigation. Whilst mammals use the hippocampus for matters of geography, reptiles are thought to use a similar enigmatic structure known as the reptilian medial cortex.

"Tortoises are perfect to study as they are considered largely unchanged from when they roamed the world millions of years ago,” says Anna Wilkinson, who trained the tortoises using strawberry rewards, “this research is important so we can better understand the evolution of the brain and the evolution of cognition."

Impressively, two of the tortoises even went on to use the information they had learnt in a real life scenario. After learning to peck blue circles on one side of a screen in exchange for a reward, the reptiles chose to approach the same side of an experimental chamber when presented with two empty blue bowls similar to the virtual circles.

This outcome suggests that like the majority of animals, reptiles rely on 'landmarks', and not just simple motor processing, to orientate in their environment. Wilkinson hopes this study will open the door for a wider adoption of touchscreens in animal behavioural studies.

“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", she says.