Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 927–932 | Cite as

Social learning in Cartilaginous fish (stingrays Potamotrygon falkneri)

  • Kerstin E. Thonhauser
  • Tamar Gutnick
  • Ruth A. Byrne
  • Karl Kral
  • Gordon M. Burghardt
  • Michael J. KubaEmail author
Original Paper


Social learning is considered one of the hallmarks of cognition. Observers learn from demonstrators that a particular behavior pattern leads to a specific consequence or outcome, which may be either positive or negative. In the last few years, social learning has been studied in a variety of taxa including birds and bony fish. To date, there are few studies demonstrating learning processes in cartilaginous fish. Our study shows that the cartilaginous fish freshwater stingrays (Potamotrygon falkneri) are capable of social learning and isolates the processes involved. Using a task that required animals to learn to remove a food reward from a tube, we found that observers needed significantly (P < 0.01) fewer trials to learn to extract the reward than demonstrators. Furthermore, observers immediately showed a significantly (P < 0.05) higher frequency of the most efficient “suck and undulation” strategy exhibited by the experienced demonstrators, suggesting imitation. Shedding light on social learning processes in cartilaginous fish advances the systematic comparison of cognition between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates and helps unravel the evolutionary origins of social cognition.


Social learning Cartilaginous fish Stingray Imitation learning 



We gratefully acknowledge the Vienna Zoo for the experimental framework requirements and their support. Furthermore, we want to thank the animal keeper team in the Aquarium house who supported and enriched this project with their help and ideas. We especially would like to thank Prof. M. J. Gutnick for his critical review of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MOV 25428 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerstin E. Thonhauser
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tamar Gutnick
    • 3
  • Ruth A. Byrne
    • 4
  • Karl Kral
    • 2
  • Gordon M. Burghardt
    • 5
  • Michael J. Kuba
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Tiergarten SchönbrunnWienAustria
  2. 2.Institut of ZoologyKarl- Franzens University GrazGrazAustria
  3. 3.Department of Neurobiology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life ScienceHebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael
  4. 4.Division of Rheumatology, Clinic of Internal Medicine IIIMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria
  5. 5.Departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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