Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 765–769 | Cite as

Gaze following in the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)

  • Anna Wilkinson
  • Isabella Mandl
  • Thomas Bugnyar
  • Ludwig Huber
Short Communication


Gaze following refers to the ability of an animal to orient its gaze direction to that of another organism. Such a behavior may be adaptive as it alerts the observer to important objects in the environment such as food or predators. This behavior has been shown in mammals and birds, but the evolutionary history and the distribution of this behavior throughout the animal kingdom remain unclear. Here, we show that a reptile, the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria), is able to follow the gaze of a conspecific in a lookup task. Controls revealed that neither the mere presence of a conspecific nor the presentation of a light stimulus (without a demonstrator present) controlled the tortoises’ behavior. The findings indicate that the ability to follow gaze may be found in mammals, birds and reptiles and could have evolved before the amniotic line diverged, or may result from a general ability to learn.


Reptile Tortoise Turtle Gaze following 



The authors would like to thank C. Schloegl, E. Glass and the cold-blooded cognition group at the University of Vienna for their helpful comments. We would also like to thank G. Burghardt for discussion of tortoise behavior. We are indebted to W. Berger and M. Pollirer for the experimental setup. This work was supported by funding from the Austrian Science Fund (to L.H.) contract number P19574.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Wilkinson
    • 1
  • Isabella Mandl
    • 1
  • Thomas Bugnyar
    • 1
  • Ludwig Huber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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