Tortoises learn how to use touchscreens

Last Updated: Sunday, August 3, 2014 - 23:26

New York: Touchscreen technology may have found new fans in tortoises!

Scientists have taught red-footed tortoises how to use touchscreens in exchange for a strawberry.

Researchers taught the tortoises a few touchscreen basics in order to learn about the animals` navigational techniques.

The tortoises not only mastered the task in exchange for strawberries, but the creatures also transferred their knowledge to a real-life setting.

The tortoises, which are native to Central and South America, don`t have a hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning, memory and spatial navigation, said Anna Wilkinson, one of the study`s lead researchers and a senior lecturer of animal cognition at the University of Lincoln in England.
Instead, red-footed tortoises may rely on an area of the brain called the medial cortex, an area associated with complex cognitive behaviour and decision making in people.

To understand how tortoises learn, the researchers tested how the reptiles relied on cues to get around, `Live Science` reported.

Wilkinson and researchers at the University of Vienna gave the tortoises treats when the reptiles looked at, approached and then pecked on the screen.

The four red-footed tortoises in the study learned how to use touchscreens fairly quickly, Wilkinson said.

"It`s comparable to the speed with which the pigeons and rats do it. I`ve trained dogs to use a touchscreen and I`d say the tortoises are faster," Wilkinson said.
In the experiment, the tortoises pecked a red triangle in the centre of the touchscreen. When two blue circles flashed, they had to consistently peck either the circle on the right or the one on the left to get a treat.

All four of the tortoises mastered the touchscreen task, but two eventually stopped cooperating, possibly because they were too small to properly reach the screen, Wilkinson said.

The remaining two tortoises applied their knowledge to a real-life situation in the next part of the experiment, Wilkinson said.

The researchers placed them in an arena with two blue empty food bowls that looked like the blue circles on the touch screen. The tortoises went to the bowl on the same side as the circles they were trained to peck on the screen.

The study was published in the journal Behavioral Processes.


First Published: Sunday, August 3, 2014 - 23:26

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