Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 325-331

First online:

Social learning by imitation in a reptile (Pogona vitticeps)

  • Anna KisAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, University of LincolnDepartment of Ethology, Eötvös UniversityResearch Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • , Ludwig HuberAffiliated withMesserli Research Institute, University of Veterinary MedicineDepartment of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna
  • , Anna WilkinsonAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln Email author 

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The ability to learn through imitation is thought to be the basis of cultural transmission and was long considered a distinctive characteristic of humans. There is now evidence that both mammals and birds are capable of imitation. However, nothing is known about these abilities in the third amniotic class—reptiles. Here, we use a bidirectional control procedure to show that a reptile species, the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), is capable of social learning that cannot be explained by simple mechanisms such as local enhancement or goal emulation. Subjects in the experimental group opened a trap door to the side that had been demonstrated, while subjects in the ghost control group, who observed the door move without the intervention of a conspecific, were unsuccessful. This, together with differences in behaviour between experimental and control groups, provides compelling evidence that reptiles possess cognitive abilities that are comparable to those observed in mammals and birds and suggests that learning by imitation is likely to be based on ancient mechanisms.


Reptile Social cognition Bidirectional control procedure