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April 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Self-Aware Mantas Wave at Themselves

from the April, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Mantas may be much smarter than anyone might think, unless you're a diver who has observed them interacting with each other at a cleaning station.

This was revealed by an experiment by scientists from the University of South Florida, who observed two giant oceanic manta rays reacting to their own reflections. The specimens were exposed to a mirror at the Atlantis Aquarium, Bahamas, in March 2012 over 16-days. Two of the winged elasmobranchs were observed waving at themselves in mirrors and behaving in ways that hint at self-awareness. The mantas didn't interact with their reflected image as if it were another manta ray, and this behavior was not observed when the mirrors were removed or replaced with a blank white board.

Instead, they appeared to carry out what's known as 'contingency checking' -- watching the mirror as they moved their fins and blew bubbles, checking to see if the reflection matched their own actions.

The mirror self-recognition test is a common test of higher intelligence and self-awareness, and only a small number of animals can do it, including teenage girls who do it more than they need to!

Ben Davison

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