Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 325–331 | Cite as

Social learning by imitation in a reptile (Pogona vitticeps)

  • Anna Kis
  • Ludwig Huber
  • Anna WilkinsonEmail author
Original Paper


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 



We thank L. Stepniewska, V. Clarke, J. Murray, M. Gácsi for assistance and Boróka Bereczky for reliability coding. Supported by ESF Programme “The Evolution of Social Cognition”.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics standard

The experiment reported in this paper complies with the laws of the country in which it was performed (UK).

Supplementary material

10071_2014_803_MOESM1_ESM.doc (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 24 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (AVI 1218 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (AVI 1234 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (AVI 2067 kb)

Supplementary material 5 (AVI 4082 kb)

Supplementary material 6 (AVI 6056 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Life SciencesUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK
  2. 2.Department of EthologyEötvös UniversityBudapestHungary
  3. 3.Research Centre for Natural SciencesHungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  4. 4.Messerli Research InstituteUniversity of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria
  5. 5.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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