Friday, November 03, 2006

I am a Pretty Pretty Pachyderm

You know that age old Zen-achieving thought, what if you are really the reflection of the person in the mirror? Well elephants have figured it out. Sort of.

Three female elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York were given an eight foot by eight foot mirror in their pen and the outcome was observed for an unclear amount of time by researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. What they found was pretty unique.

The elephants would first go up to the new object and, encountering another elephant that seemed to move when they did, would go through a series of repetitive motions, learning that the elephant in the mirror was in fact themselves. This separates them from other animals that might try and interact with the reflection as if it were another elephant.

Their recognition of themselves was proved by experiments such as the mark test, where a colorless spot of paint and a colored spot of paint was painted onto a place the elephant could not normally see. One of the elephant subjects saw itself in the mirror and touched the colored spot. There were also other proofs. Sometimes the elephants would check the insides of their mouths in the mirror, another place they cannot normally see.

The running theory is that animals with complex brains and complex social structures seem to gain the ability to figure out a mirror. Thus far, only elephants, humans, great apes, and dolphins seem to have the ability to be aware of their reflections.

Posted by heckers (9)


At 12:14 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Great blog, I didn't know other species aside from humans were able to recognize a reflection as themselves. I was wondering, how long did it take for elephants to recognize their reflection compared with the other species that are capable of recognizing their own reflections.

by mfp

At 6:54 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Another interesting post about animal behavior. I think it is pretty impressive not only that the elephants can dicipher their reflection from another animal, but that we are learning and putting this evidence together to find this is a trait of complex brains and social structure. It just makes you wonder what else these animals with complex brains are also capable of. Good post.

Posted by MPC(9)

At 6:54 PM, Blogger PWH said...

The article doesn't say how long it took the elephants to understand the mirror.. It seems to imply that it was pretty quickly, but I don't want to lie to you on that.
It also doesn't have anything at all contrasting it with other species that comprehend mirrors. You're right, though; that would be cool.

Posted by heckers


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