Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 927-932

First online:

Social learning in Cartilaginous fish (stingrays Potamotrygon falkneri)

  • Kerstin E. ThonhauserAffiliated withTiergarten SchönbrunnInstitut of Zoology, Karl- Franzens University Graz
  • , Tamar GutnickAffiliated withDepartment of Neurobiology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, Hebrew University
  • , Ruth A. ByrneAffiliated withDivision of Rheumatology, Clinic of Internal Medicine III, Medical University of Vienna
  • , Karl KralAffiliated withInstitut of Zoology, Karl- Franzens University Graz
  • , Gordon M. BurghardtAffiliated withDepartments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
  • , Michael J. KubaAffiliated withTiergarten SchönbrunnDepartment of Neurobiology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, Hebrew University Email author 

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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 learning Cartilaginous fish Stingray Imitation learning