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Biol Lett. 2010 October 23; 6(5): 614–616.
Published online 2010 March 31. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2010.0092
PMCID: PMC2936136

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


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.

Keywords: social learning, solitary, reptile, tortoise, turtle

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