Lincoln research showcased on BBC’s Ingenious Animals

 posted by | 06/09/2016

Research by Dr Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences features on a prime-time BBC television series which sheds light on fascinating findings from the animal world.

Ingenious Animals is a new BBC One series in which a team of wildlife experts travel the globe in search of the most surprising animal stories and reveal how and why animals do such remarkable things.

Dr Wilkinson’s work exploring the cognitive abilities of cold-blooded animals featured in the opening episode of the series, which is presented by award-winning broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Her research has resulted in world-first evidence that reptiles can learn through imitation.

The study, which was showcased in full as part of Ingenious Animals on Thursday 1st September 2016, revealed that bearded dragons are in fact capable of social learning through imitation.

Scientists draw an important distinction between imitation and emulation when studying the cognitive abilities of animals. The ability to acquire new skills through the imitation of others’ behaviour was previously thought to be unique to humans and apes, however Dr Wilkinson’s work was the first to demonstrate this ability in reptiles.

The research involved two different sets of bearded dragons. One group was shown a video of another bearded dragon moving aside a small sliding door to reach food on the other side, whereas a control group was shown a video of the door opening but with no indication of how it could be moved.

The bearded dragons which were shown the video of the animal sliding open the door were all able to imitate this action and get to the food, whereas the control group could not.

Talking about the research on the programme, presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Anna has clear evidence that they are solving problems by imitation, and now science is rethinking the extent of reptile intelligence.

“Anna’s exciting research overturns the view that reptiles are slow thinkers with limited intelligence, and these delightful dragons are changing the way we see the reptile world.”

The Lincoln study featured in the first episode of the series, dedicated to ‘animal intelligence’, alongside other research and animal stories from across the globe. The programme also featured rats which are becoming unexpected heroes – helping to save lives as part of a unique mine-detection squad.

The episode is available to view again on the BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07tj0ps/ingenious-animals-1-intelligence (University of Lincoln feature begins at 34 minutes.)