Article

Journal of Ethology

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 167-174

First online:

Contingency checking and self-directed behaviors in giant manta rays: Do elasmobranchs have self-awareness?

  • Csilla AriAffiliated withHyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory, Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South FloridaFoundation for the Oceans of the FutureManta Pacific Research Foundation Email author 
  • , Dominic P. D’AgostinoAffiliated withHyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory, Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South FloridaFoundation for the Oceans of the FutureManta Pacific Research Foundation

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Abstract

Elaborate cognitive skills arose independently in different taxonomic groups. Self-recognition is conventionally identified by the understanding that one’s own mirror reflection does not represent another individual but oneself, which has never been proven in any elasmobranch species to date. Manta rays have a high encephalization quotient, similar to those species that have passed the mirror self-recognition test, and possess the largest brain of all fish species. In this study, mirror exposure experiments were conducted on two captive giant manta rays to document their response to their mirror image. The manta rays did not show signs of social interaction with their mirror image. However, frequent unusual and repetitive movements in front of the mirror suggested contingency checking; in addition, unusual self-directed behaviors could be identified when the manta rays were exposed to the mirror. The present study shows evidence for behavioral responses to a mirror that are prerequisite of self-awareness and which has been used to confirm self-recognition in apes.

Keywords

Self-recognition Mirror test Comparative cognition Mobulidae Cognition