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Cognition in Reptiles

Reptiles just don’t get an even break in the public’s consciousness sometimes. For centuries, the public, and many biologists have dismissed them as cognitive and behavioral simpletons that simply are incapable of showing any interesting behaviors compared to the birds and mammals. Well, I hope that our wonderful readers of this column will immediately know otherwise. We have seen, in multiple posting here examples of non-avian reptiles doing amazing things with their brains. Of course, this audience also already is aware that the generalization that reptiles do not perform complex social behaviors or cognitive tasks is flawed, in part, because birds are reptiles. Birds, of course, are well known for spectacularly complex behaviors and cognitive abilities.

But, what about the non-avian reptiles? My students have shown that monitor lizards, but not beaded lizards, are capable of learning to solve artificial puzzles in order to access a food reward and then remember how to do so up to two years following their last exposure to the puzzle. They also just completed a study showing that box turtles assess quantities of food presented based both the numerosity (= number of discrete food items) and quantity (= overall amount of food, regardless how it may be partitioned across multiple food items).

Thanks for reading!

Joe Mendelson, PhD
Director of Research

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl