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Superior continuous quantity discrimination in a freshwater turtle
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-09-25, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00431-y
Lin, Feng-Chun, Whiting, Martin J., Hsieh, Ming-Ying, Shaner, Pei-Jen Lee, Lin, Si-Min

Quantity discrimination, the ability to discriminate a magnitude of difference or discrete numerical information, plays a key role in animal behavior. While quantitative ability has been well documented in fishes, birds, mammals, and even in previously unstudied invertebrates and amphibians, it is still poorly understood in reptiles and has never been tested in an aquatic turtle despite the fact that evidence is accumulating that reptiles possess cognitive skills and learning ability. To help address this deficiency in reptiles, we investigated the quantitative ability of an Asian freshwater turtle, Mauremys sinensis, using red cubes on a white background in a trained quantity discrimination task. While spontaneous quantity discrimination methods are thought to be more ecologically relevant, training animals on a quantity discrimination task allows more comparability across taxa. We assessed the turtles’ quantitative performance in a series of tests with increasing quantity ratios and numerosities. Surprisingly, the turtles were able to discriminate quantities of up to 9 versus 10 (ratio = 0.9), which shows a good quantitative ability that is comparable to some endotherms. Our results showed that the turtles’ quantitative performance followed Weber’s law, in which success rate decreased with increasing quantity ratio across a wide range of numerosities. Furthermore, the gradual improvement of their success rate across different experiments and phases suggested that the turtles possess learning ability. Reptile quantitative ability has long been ignored and therefore is likely under-estimated. More comparative research on numerical cognition across a diversity of species will greatly contribute to a clearer understanding of quantitative ability in animals and whether it has evolved convergently in diverse taxa.