Antarctic penguins recognise themselves in mirror, hinting they belong to small list of self-aware animals – The Independent

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in
Capacity to have a ‘self-concept’ of themselves as ‘individuals’ may be an important step in penguins’ evolution, study says
Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile
Some Antarctic penguins can recognise themselves in the mirror, according to a new study that suggests these birds may belong to a small list of animals known to be self-aware.
Until now, studies have shown that a few mammals, including the great apes, bottlenose dolphins, and elephants, as well as some birds such as pigeons, Indian house crows, and magpies have self-awareness.
This trait is assessed in animals using a behavioural test that monitors the ability of animals to recognise themselves as individuals in a mirror.
The new yet-to-be peer-reviewed study – posted recently on the bioRxiv preprint server – assessed how Adélie penguins in Antarctica responded to images of themselves in mirrors.
In the research, scientists, including those from the Indian government’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, conducted four experiments, one of which involved placing some mirrors on the ground and observing how random penguins looked down at them.
In another experiment, researchers built a cardboard corral around some penguins which directed them toward mirrors at the ends of an enclosure.
They also placed stickers on the mirrors which appeared as if it was on the penguin when the birds looked at them.
In the last experiment, scientists placed a bib on random penguins placed in front of a mirror.
“We believe that this set of experiments constitutes possibly the first investigations into the potential presence of self- awareness in any penguin species,” scientists wrote in the study.
While researchers did not find any response from the penguins in the first experiment, they found that in the second one the birds moved in ways hinting they may have been examining themselves.
In the third experiment, penguins seemed to get agitated when looking at the mirrors with stickers on them and tried to remove the stickers, scientists said.
Although ambiguous, researchers say the findings of all the experiments taken together hint that the penguins may exhibit a degree of self-awareness.
“Our investigations lead us to tentatively suggest that Adelie penguins are possibly self-aware, as indicated by their responses to their own images in a mirror,” scientists wrote in the study.
They say the capabilities of Adélie penguins to discriminate between individuals, “especially within their large colonies,” could be an indication that the “capacity to have a ‘self-concept’ of themselves as individuals” may be an important step in their evolution.
“Although not investigated to any detail yet, we speculate that it is entirely possible that similar phenomena may exist in penguin species, including Adélie penguins, with their complex social lives within communal rookeries,” researchers wrote.
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies
An Adelie Penguin chick (Pygoscelis adeliae) less than a month old, is protected by its parents while remaining in a recreated antarctic environment in the zoo of Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico on January 17, 2018
AFP via Getty Images
Want to bookmark your favourite articles and stories to read or reference later? Start your Independent Premium subscription today.
Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in
Log in
New to The Independent?
Or if you would prefer:
Want an ad-free experience?