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Fish appear to recognise themselves in the mirror
Alex Jordan administered the mirror test on cleaner wrasse in order to test the cognitive capacity of social fish.

Study raises questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals

Fish appear to be able to recognise themselves in the mirror, according to new research.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, observed cleaner wrasse fish responding to their reflection and attempting to remove coloured marks on their body.

The finding suggests that fish have higher cognitive abilities than first thought and has sparked questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals that are so dissimilar to humans.

The research was carried out by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, the University of Konstanz and Osaka City University.

“The behaviours we observe leave little doubt that this fish behaviourally fulfils all criteria of the mirror test as originally laid out,” explained Alex Jordan, principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz.

“What is less clear is whether these behaviours should be considered as evidence that fish are self-aware - even though in the past these same behaviours have been interpreted as self-awareness in so many other animals.”

In the study, scientists placed a coloured mark on fish in an area that could only be viewed in a mirror. To gain a ‘pass,’ the fish needed to touch or investigate their mark, showing an awareness of the reflected image.

The researchers witnessed the fish attempting to remove the marks by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces after looking at themselves in the mirror.

The fish did not attempt to remove transparent marks in the presence of a mirror, nor did they attempt to remove the coloured marks when no mirror was present. This suggests that the fish were responding to the visual cue of seeing the mark on themselves in the mirror.

To the authors of the study, the results present clear evidence of behaviours that appear to pass every phase of the classic mirror test. What is not yet clear, however, is whether the evidence shows that fish possess self-awareness.

“Personally, I find the most parsimonious interpretation to be that these fish do pass the test as given, but this doesn’t mean they are self-aware,” Alex continued. “Rather they come to recognise the reflection as a representation of their own bodies without the involvement of self-consciousness.

“Given this, we should critically evaluate whether the mark test remains the gold-standard for awareness testing in animals.”

Image (C) Max Planck Institute/S.Gingins.

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Endangered turtles rescued from smugglers

News Story 1
 A group of endangered turtles have found a new home at London Zoo after being rescued from smugglers.

The four big-headed turtles arrived at the zoo at the end of last year, after smugglers tried to illegally import them to Canada, labelled as toys.

One of the turtles, named Lady Triệu after a Vietnamese warrioress, has moved to a new exhibit in the zoo’s reptile house. She is the only one of her kind in a UK zoo.

Big-headed turtles have such large heads that they cannot pull them back into their shells. To compensate, they have armour plating from head to tail and a very sharp beak to fend off predators. They are ranked number 18 on ZSL’s EDGE of Existence reptile list, which puts threatened species at the forefront of conservation action. Image © ZSL  

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Professor Abdul Rahman announced as keynote speaker for BVA Members’ Day 2019

Celebrated Indian vet and parasitologist Professor Abdul Rahman is set to deliver the keynote speech at BVA Members’ Day 2019.

Professor Rahman will present his insights into the human behaviour challenges of controlling zoonotic disease in his talk: ‘A One Health approach to rabies elimination in Asia’. The talk will outline efforts to gain political support for dog vaccination programmes in China, as well as the need for a collaborative approach between vets, public health, livestock and animal welfare agencies.

The event takes place on Thursday, 19 September at Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. Tickets are free but must be reserved through the BVA website as places are limited.