Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks
Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks
Illustration for article titled Reptiles are smart. Weve just been testing them wrong.

Reptiles are often thought of as instinct creatures but new research suggests that they are actually a lot smarter than we think.


According to a New York Times article:

By using experiments originally designed for mammals, researchers may have been setting reptiles up for failure. For instance, scientists commonly use "aversive stimuli," such as loud sounds and bright lights, to shape rodent behavior. But reptiles respond to many of these stimuli by freezing, thereby not performing.

Scientists may also have been asking reptiles to perform impossible tasks. Lizards do not use their legs to manipulate objects, Dr. Leal said, "so you cannot develop an experiment where you're expecting them to unwrap a box, for example."

What's more, because they are coldblooded, reptiles are particularly sensitive to environmental conditions. Rats and mice can run a maze just fine in a 70-degree lab, but many reptilian species need a much warmer environment — with air temperatures in the mid-80s or 90s. "They seem to learn the quickest at body temperatures that are very uncomfortable for us," Dr. Burghardt said.


In experiments reptiles were able to successfully navigate a maze, figure out how to operate an apparatus to get at food and learn a task from observation.

These results suggest that what we call intelligence is more widespread in the animal kingdom that previously thought.

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