Magpies, elephants, dolphins and some monkeys know that when they look in the mirror they see themselves. German scientists decided to check whether chickens can also do this. For this purpose, they conducted a new type of experiment, involving 58 roosters.
A team of experts from the Institute of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Bonn and the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Bochum in Germany discovered that roosters are able to pass a self-recognition test. The results of their analysis were published in the scientific journal “Plos One”.
A rooster, a mirror, a hawk’s shadow
Scientists reported that previous research suggested that very few animal species have self-awareness, understood as self-recognition. This means that the animal understands that the image in the mirror is of itself and not of another individual of the same species. Experiments that have been carried out in the past were aimed at checking whether an animal could react to the sight of its head or body. This feature has already been proven in magpies, some apes, elephants and dolphins.
The research team took into account that many animal species lack hands or fingers to clearly demonstrate that they recognize their reflection. Therefore, they decided to test a new way of examining self-recognition and test it on roosters.
In the study, they mentioned that roosters not only crow in the morning, but also when they see a predator. When they are alone, they mostly stay calm. They decided to use it in their work.
So they placed the rooster in a small space, divided into two halves by a net. In some trials they placed a different rooster, in other situations they inserted only the mirror, and sometimes they left the other part empty. A potential threat was also added – in this case it was the shadow of a hawk projected on the ceiling.
Researchers carefully observed the behavior of 58 roosters. The results of the study showed that the birds were much more likely to issue alarm calls when they saw another rooster than when they were alone or looking in the mirror. The team found a similar reduction in calls when they placed a second rooster out of sight behind a mirror.
“The Fundamental Aspect of Consciousness”
The team says the findings suggest that the birds understood they were looking at their own reflection, even if it was accompanied by the smell and sounds of another individual. This may suggest that they recognize themselves in the mirror or that they see a surprising animal that mimics their movements.
New reports suggest that roosters determine potential threats primarily by sight, rather than sound or smell. To confirm this, it will be necessary to conduct modified research that will take into account the natural context of a given individual.
– Self-recognition is a fundamental aspect of consciousness. For us this is fundamental. “Our results suggest a level of awareness in chickens that prompts discussions about animal rights and welfare,” said Sonja Hillemacher, one of the study’s authors.
“If roosters can distinguish their own reflection from the gaze of a conspecific, it is likely that this cognitive ability is much more widespread than previously assumed,” the team said.
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