August 19, 2008
Well we do, so why not other animals? And so it seems that we, some other primates, the dolphin, the African Elephant and now a bird identified as a ‘magpie’ (I’m sure there are plenty of ‘magpie’ species around the globe) can not only see themselves in a mirror but actually ‘get’ that it’s them. I’ve seen plenty of other birds fight with their reflected selves in a pane of glass, but this time the bird apparently recognised itself and acted like it.
When the birds with coloured neck spots caught a glimpse of themselves, they scratched at their necks – a clear indication that they recognised the image in the mirror as their own. Those who received a black sticker, invisible against the black neck feathers, did not react. Self-recognition was thought to reside in the neocortex, but birds don’t have one. Franz de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta points out that the magpie does nevertheless have a big brain. “You need a large brain with a lot of connectivity,” he says. “If it had been a sparrow, it would have been a problem.”
So what? Well it’s another species that understands that it is an individual. Increasingly we find that we are not as unique in our abilities as we thought we were. Surely that impacts on how we treat other animals? Apart from sparrows, perhaps. It looks like we still have a problem with sparrows.