Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 745–762 | Cite as

Revisiting social recognition systems in invertebrates

  • Francesca Gherardi
  • Laura Aquiloni
  • Elena Tricarico


Since the 1970s, the ability of some invertebrate species to recognize individual conspecifics has attracted increased scientific interest. However, there is still confusion in the literature, possibly due to the lack of unambiguous criteria for classifying social recognition in its different forms. Here, we synthesize the results of studies on invertebrates and provide a framework with the purpose of identifying research needs and directions for future investigations. Following in part Sherman et al.’s (Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach. Blackwell Science, Oxford, pp 69–96, 1997) definition of ‘recognition systems’ and Tibbetts and Dale’s (Trends Ecol Evol 22:529–537, 2007) classification of ‘individual recognition,’ we first discuss different case studies that exemplify the categories of ‘familiar recognition’ and ‘class-level recognition.’ Then, through the analysis of the invertebrate literature, we illustrate eight key properties that characterize ‘true individual recognition’ systems. We are confident that the proposed framework will provide opportunities for exciting discoveries of the cognitive abilities in invertebrates.


True individual recognition Kin recognition Familiar recognition Class-level recognition Invertebrates 



This is a contribution to the project Hormonal modulation and individual recognition in the agonistic behavior of crustacean decapods (PRIN 2008) cofinanced by MIUR. A previous version of the paper was presented at the Symposium ‘Cognitive abilities of invertebrates: questions and perspectives’ (chairs: Robert Elwood, University of Belfast, and Francesca Gherardi, University of Florence) at the V European Conference on Behavioural Biology held in Ferrara (July, 16–18, 2010). Four anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged for their thoughtful comments. Thanks are also due to Mr. Chris Switzer for his linguistic revision. The paper is dedicated to Pat McLaughlin (1932–2011), one of the first mentors of F.G.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca Gherardi
    • 1
  • Laura Aquiloni
    • 1
  • Elena Tricarico
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Biology ‘Leo Pardi’University of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

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