Researchers impressed by the memory of giant turtles, these solitary centenarians

Researchers impressed by the memory of giant turtles, these solitary centenarians


A study shows us that terrestrial giant tortoises have a good memory and, incidentally, that they are able to be trained.

Little is known about giant ground turtles, with most studies focusing on marine turtles. We simply know that they can live for a very long time (over 100 years), that they are solitary and that they are able to travel long distances, despite their slowness, often following the same paths.

This last observation led a team of researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (Japan) to question the memory capacity of these reptiles. For this work, published in the journal Animal Cognition, researchers conducted small experiments with giant turtles from the Galapagos Islands and Aldabra living at the Vienna Zoo in Austria.

A very good memory, even after 9 years!
These trainings (positive reinforcement) consisted in proposing to the turtles colored balls fixed at the end of sticks. When they bit into one bullet, they had a reward (food), and when they bit into another, they had no reward.

In the first experiment, all the turtles seemed to have quickly understood the principle. The researchers then returned 95 days later to conduct the same experiment. It turned out that all the turtles remembered their first training and chose the right balls. But the most impressive thing is that the researchers returned to the zoo nine years later. And again, the turtles have passed the test!

It also emerged that during the first experiment, turtles appeared to learn faster when formed as a group.

Do not underestimate reptiles
Intelligence tests have often been conducted with mammals, birds, insects or even fish. On the other hand, we have so far tended to underestimate the intellectual abilities of our cold-blooded friends. This study proves that they should be considered more.

“We hope this work will challenge assumptions about the intelligence of reptiles,” says Michael Kuba, lead author of the study. The work on cognition in reptiles is often limited by the lack of specimens. But the fact is, the more species we test, the more we see that many of these reptiles have a cognitive capacity similar to that of mammals. “