The tortoise and the touchscreen

wilkinsonIg Nobel Prize winners Anna Wilkinson [pictured here, with a tortoise] and Ludwig Huber have now done an experiment with four tortoises and a touchscreen. (Wilkinson and Huber, together with colleagues Natalie Sebanz and Isabella Mandl, were awarded the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for physiology, for their study “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.”)

The new study is: “Touchscreen performance and knowledge transfer in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria),” Julia Mueller-Paul, Anna Wilkinson, Ulrike Aust, Michael Steurer, Geoffrey Hall, Ludwig Huber, Behavioural Processes, vol. 106, July 2014, pp. 187–192. The authors, at the University of Vienna, Austria, the University of Lincoln, UK, the University of York, York, and theUniversity of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, report:

The present study investigated the ability of the tortoise to learn a spatial task in which the response required was simply to touch a stimulus presented in a given position on a touchscreen…. Four red-footed tortoises learned to operate the touchscreen apparatus… The results show that red-footed tortoises are able to operate a touchscreen and can successfully solve a spatial two-choice task inthis apparatus….

Four juvenile red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidiscarbonaria–formerly Geochelone) with plastron lengths of 13 cm(Esme), 13 cm (Molly), 12 cm (Quinn) and 11 cm (Emily), took part in the study. The tortoises’ sex was unknown, as unambiguous sexual dimorphism develops only later in the life of this species.