Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 507–513 | Cite as

A new method for studying problem solving and tool use in stingrays (Potamotrygon castexi)

  • Michael J. KubaEmail author
  • Ruth A. Byrne
  • Gordon M. Burghardt
Original Paper


Testing the cognitive abilities of cartilaginous fishes is important in understanding the evolutionary origins of cognitive functions in higher vertebrates. We used five South American fresh water stingrays (Potamotrygon castexi) in a learning and problem-solving task. A tube test apparatus was developed to provide a simple but sophisticated procedure for testing cognitive abilities of aquatic animals. All five subjects quickly learned to use water as a tool to extract food from the testing apparatus. The experimental protocol, which gave the animals the opportunity of correcting a wrong visual cue decision, resulted in four out of five subjects correcting an error rather than making an initial right choice. One of five subjects reached 100% correct trials in the visual discrimination task. The ability to use water as an agent to extract food from the testing apparatus is a first indication of tool use in batoid fishes. Performance in the instrumental task of retrieving food from a novel testing apparatus and the rapid learning in the subsequent discrimination/error correction task shows that cartilaginous fish can be used to study the origins of cognitive functions in the vertebrate lineage.


Tool use Problem solving Cognition Learning Fish Stingray Potamotrygon castexi 



The authors of this study want to thank the zoo of Vienna for providing the animals. We would especially like to thank E Wolf, A Weissenbacher and R Halbbauer at the zoo of Vienna for their help and cooperation during this study. We want to express our special gratitude to E Sonntag of the Detroit zoo who used food containing plastic pipes as a behavioral enrichment for the stingrays housed at the Detroit zoo. This example gave rise to our idea to create a pipe-like testing apparatus.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (DIVX 2136 kb). Animal 2 choosing the correct side of the tasting apparatus. The correct side to extract the food is marked by white tape


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Kuba
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ruth A. Byrne
    • 2
  • Gordon M. Burghardt
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Life Sciences, Department of Neurobiology and Interdisciplinary Center for Neural ComputationThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Abteilung für Rheumatologie, Klinik für Innere Medizin IIIMedizinische Universität WienViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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