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Chemically mediated self-recognition in sibling juvenile common gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) reared on same or different diets: evidence for a chemical mirror?

In: Behaviour
Authors:
Gordon M. BurghardtDepartment of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4943-8145
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Adam M. PartinDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Harry E. PepperDepartment of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Jordan M. SteeleDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Samuel M. LiskeDepartment of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Allyson E. StokesDepartment of Animal Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Ariel N. LathanDepartment of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Cary M. SpringerOffice of Information Technology, Research Computing Support, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Matthew S. JenkinsDepartment of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920, USA

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Abstract

Although self-recognition or self-awareness has been studied with the visually-based mirror test, passed by several species, primarily apes, the possibility of a chemically-based analogue is controversial. Prior studies suggested that chemical self-recognition may occur in some squamate reptiles. To evaluate this possibility, we studied 24 individually housed gartersnakes, Thamnophis sirtalis, raised from birth on either earthworm or fish diets and tested 12 male and 12 female snakes with cage liners that were either clean, their own, or from same-sex siblings fed their own or the opposite diet. Tongue flicking and activity were recorded in 30-minute video-recorded trials in a balanced design. After initial habituation to the stimuli, male, but not female, snakes discriminated between their own stimuli and those from littermates fed the same diet. Combined with other data and studies, the possibility that a chemical ‘mirror’ form of self-recognition exists in squamate reptiles is supported.

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