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

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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.

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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.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Anna Wilkinson.

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The authors confirm that the experiments comply with the current laws of Austria, the country in which they were performed.

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Wilkinson, A., Mandl, I., Bugnyar, T. et al. Gaze following in the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria). Anim Cogn 13, 765–769 (2010).

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