Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 927–932

Social learning in Cartilaginous fish (stingrays Potamotrygon falkneri)


  • Kerstin E. Thonhauser
    • Tiergarten Schönbrunn
    • Institut of ZoologyKarl- Franzens University Graz
  • Tamar Gutnick
    • Department of Neurobiology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life ScienceHebrew University
  • Ruth A. Byrne
    • Division of Rheumatology, Clinic of Internal Medicine IIIMedical University of Vienna
  • Karl Kral
    • Institut of ZoologyKarl- Franzens University Graz
  • Gordon M. Burghardt
    • Departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Tennessee
    • Tiergarten Schönbrunn
    • Department of Neurobiology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life ScienceHebrew University
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10071-013-0625-z

Cite this article as:
Thonhauser, K.E., Gutnick, T., Byrne, R.A. et al. Anim Cogn (2013) 16: 927. doi:10.1007/s10071-013-0625-z


Social learning is considered one of the hallmarks of cognition. Observers learn from demonstrators that a particular behavior pattern leads to a specific consequence or outcome, which may be either positive or negative. In the last few years, social learning has been studied in a variety of taxa including birds and bony fish. To date, there are few studies demonstrating learning processes in cartilaginous fish. Our study shows that the cartilaginous fish freshwater stingrays (Potamotrygon falkneri) are capable of social learning and isolates the processes involved. Using a task that required animals to learn to remove a food reward from a tube, we found that observers needed significantly (P < 0.01) fewer trials to learn to extract the reward than demonstrators. Furthermore, observers immediately showed a significantly (P < 0.05) higher frequency of the most efficient “suck and undulation” strategy exhibited by the experienced demonstrators, suggesting imitation. Shedding light on social learning processes in cartilaginous fish advances the systematic comparison of cognition between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates and helps unravel the evolutionary origins of social cognition.


Social learningCartilaginous fishStingrayImitation learning

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013