Concept: Red-footed tortoise
In recent years red-footed tortoises have been shown to be proficient in a number of spatial cognition tasks that involve movement of the animal through space (e.g., the radial maze). The present study investigated the ability of the tortoise to learn a spatial task in which the response required was simply to touch a stimulus presented in a given position on a touchscreen. We also investigated the relation between this task and performance in a different spatial task (an arena, in which whole-body movement was required). Four red-footed tortoises learned to operate the touchscreen apparatus, and two learned the simple spatial discrimination. The side-preference trained with the touchscreen was maintained when behaviour was tested in a physical arena. When the contingencies in the arena were then reversed, the tortoises learned the reversal but in a subsequent test did not transfer it to the touchscreen. Rather they chose the side that had been rewarded originally on the touchscreen. The results show that red-footed tortoises are able to operate a touchscreen and can successfully solve a spatial two-choice task in this apparatus. There was some indication that the preference established with the touchscreen could transfer to an arena, but with subsequent training in the arena independent patterns of choice were established that could be evoked according to the test context.
To recognize that a picture is a representation of a real-life object is a cognitively demanding task. It requires an organism to mentally represent the concrete object (the picture) and abstract its relation to the item that it represents. This form of representational insight has been shown in a small number of mammal and bird species. However, it has not previously been studied in reptiles. This study examined picture-object recognition in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria). In Experiment 1, five red-footed tortoises were trained to distinguish between food and non-food objects using a two-alternative forced choice procedure. After reaching criterion, they were presented with test trials in which the real objects were replaced with color photographs of those objects. There was no difference in performance between training and test trials, suggesting that the tortoises did see some correspondence between the real object and its photographic representation. Experiment 2 examined the nature of this correspondence by presenting the tortoises with a choice between the real food object and a photograph of it. The findings revealed that the tortoises confused the photograph with the real-life object. This suggests that they process real items and photographic representations of these items in the same way and, in this context, do not exhibit representational insight.