Adélie Penguins Might Be Self Aware

By Hannah Lozada

Adélie Penguins from Antarctica were previously researched through experiments to see if they were self-aware. The mirror self-recognition (MSR) test allows researchers to observe how different animals reacted to their own reflections. Normally, the animal is sedated and marked somewhere on its body where it wouldn’t be directly visible. If the animal notices the mark while looking in the mirror, then it passes the test. This is important because an animal’s intelligence can be shown through self-recognition. 

A team of scientists from India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences tested wild Adélie penguins compared to other MSR tests that tested captive ones. There would be a total of four experiments. The first experiment would be observing random penguins that walked up to the mirror. The second test would include building a cardboard enclosure around the penguins with a mirror at one end. The third test included stickers that would be placed onto the mirrors, The last experiment would include placing a bib around different penguins in front of a mirror to see their reactions. 

The scientists Prabir Ghosh Dastidar, Azizuddin Khan, and Anindya Sinha wrote a paper of their recordings. The team states that the penguins started to rapidly move their heads, flippers, and other parts of their body before being exposed to the mirror. They probably made this movement as just a normal gesture upon seeing the scientists. However, once the mirror was in their vicinity, the penguins stood still and examined their reflections. 

According to the scientists’ research paper, “Many of these movements and gestures were rapidly repeated, but strikingly, the visual attention of all the subject penguins was firmly on their images during the entire timespan of their performance.” (Dastidar, Khan and Sinha)

The first experiment resulted in no response from the penguins. The second experiment had more promising results since the penguins showed signs they were examining themselves. They also didn’t show aggression toward their reflection. In the third experiment, the penguins appeared agitated when viewing the stickers in their reflection and even tried to remove them. In the fourth experiment, the penguins didn’t react to viewing themselves wearing a red bib. However, there is evidence that supports the fact that penguins are unable to see red.

Despite the amount of cons from this experiment, scientists do believe that Adélie penguins could potentially be self-aware according to the evidence that they have gathered so far. The team states that future studies, “could provide evidence to confirm the presence of self-awareness and even of self-recognition in this species and examine whether the observed social awareness may have evolved.” (Dastidar, Khan and Sinha)

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