14 August 2013

Shearwater in the mirror

A Scopoli's shearwater Calonectris diomedea on a low-altitude flight.

Do these birds wonder who is the strange individual who always flies upside-down, just below? Or have they eventually realized it is their own reflected image?

Many aquatic species spend much of their time near a water surface that, when calm, accurately reflects their image (both from above and from below). Do they "recognize" themselves?

The question isn't as trivial as it may seem, because mirror self-recognition is sometimes associated with awareness of self - a cognitive ability previously thought to be exclusive to humans and apes, and now known to be present in dolphins.


Marino L, Reiss D, Gallup GG Jr (1994) Mirror self-recognition in bottlenose dolphins: implications for comparative investigations of highly dissimilar species. In: Parker ST, Mitchell RW, Boccia ML (eds) Self-awareness in animals and humans: developmental perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 380–391

Reiss D, Marino L (2001) Mirror self-recognition in the bottlenose dolphin: a case of cognitive convergence. Proc Natl A Sci USA 98(10):5937–5942

but also consider:

Schilhab TSS (2004) What mirror self-recognition in nonhumans can tell us about aspects of self. Biology and Phylosophy 19(1):111-126

(Photo by S. Bonizzoni, Gulf of Corinth, Greece)

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