Social learning in a non-social reptile (Geochelone carbonaria)

Anna Wilkinson, Karin Kuenstner, Julia Mueller, Ludwig Huber

Abstract

The ability to learn from the actions of another is adaptive, as it is a shortcut for acquiring new information. However, the evolutionary origins of this trait are still unclear. There is evidence that group-living mammals, birds, fishes and insects can learn through observation, but this has never been investigated in reptiles. Here, we show that the non-social red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria) can learn from the actions of a conspecific in a detour task; non-observer animals (without a conspecific demonstrator) failed. This result provides the first evidence that a non-social species can use social cues to solve a task that it cannot solve through individual learning, challenging the idea that social learning is an adaptation for social living.

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