Tech-Savvy Tortoise Masters the Touchscreen

by Jessica Mulholland / August 5, 2014

In the United Kingdom, researchers at the University of Lincoln are studying the red-footed tortoise -- more specifically, the tortoises are using touch screens to help these researchers learn more about reptile brains.

The experiment, being conducted at the university's Riseholme Campus, is testing how these tortoises remember their surroundings and use them to decide where food might be, the Lincolnshire Echo reported.

It's known that  mammals can use a mental or cognitive map to recall a path that will lead them to food, but this study  tested how the reptiles can do the same using a different part of their brain.

After some initial experiments, the animals were then trained to select one of two blue circles on a touch screen to get food. 

“We trained them to go for a left stimulus, and they were presented with blue circles on the touch screen," Dr. Anna Wilkinson, a senior lecturer of animal cognition at the University of Lincoln told the Lincolnshire Echo. "One of the tortoises was always trained to go left, if they would peck the left one they would get food. After they learned to do that, we put them in a real life maze or arena where they had two blue bowls, so we could say, ‘Where do you want to go.’"

What the researchers found, she said, was the tortoises transferred what they learned from the touchscreen into the larger arena. -- Jessica Mulholland