Visual and response-based navigation in the tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)
Much research has investigated spatial cognition in mammals and birds. Evidence suggests that the hippocampus plays a critical role in this; however, reptiles do not possess a hippocampus. It has been proposed that the reptilian medial cortex plays a similar role, yet little behavioral research has directly investigated this. Consequently, this study examined the role of extramaze cues in spatial navigation by the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria) using an eight-arm radial maze. In Experiment 1 the maze was surrounded by a black curtain on which geometrical shapes were attached. After the tortoise reached above-chance performance we introduced test sessions in which the cues were removed. Performance was unaffected by cue removal. The tortoise appeared to have developed a “turn-by-one-arm” strategy. In a second experiment the curtain was removed and the tortoise was allowed access to a rich-cue environment. The use of the turn-by-one-arm strategy was significantly reduced and the tortoise appeared to be using the extramaze cues to navigate around the apparatus. This type of response-based strategy, and the specific contexts in which it was used, has not been observed in mammals and birds, suggesting that the mechanisms served by the reptilian medial cortex do not parallel exactly those of the hippocampus.