When you look in the mirror you are able to recognize yourself and understand that you are looking at your reflection and not some other human. Well, it turns out that there are other animals that are also self-aware. A test that was developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970 called the mirror self-recognition test (MSR) has been the test used to see what other animals are self-aware for decades. There are actually very few animals that have passed the MSR test. The only insect to pass the MSR test was the ant believe it or not. Apparently, these little critters are smarter than we gave them credit.
A study published in 2015 provided ample evidence that ants are indeed self-aware and were able to successfully pass the MSR test. To test this out, researchers first placed ants in a tray that had a glass sheet separating the ants on one side from their nestmates on the other side of the glass. During this test the ants behaved as they usually would, clearly seeing their nest-mates on the other side of the glass, but not taking close notice of them or reacting to the wall of glass.
After this initial test with the glass separating the ants in the tray, the researchers placed the ants in front a mirror instead of a clear glass wall. When in front of the mirror, the ants behaved differently than they had previously. When they were in front of the mirror, they took great interest in the ant they saw reflected back at them. The ants would touch the mirror, retreating and then re-approaching. They would turn their heads back and forth and rapidly shake their antennae. Some even would groom themselves in front of the mirror, stopping in front of it and cleaning their legs and antennae.
After this initial test with the mirror, the researchers marked each of the ants on the clypeus, a part of their face near their mouths, with a blue dot or a brown dot that blended in with their natural coloring. They also marked some ants with a blue dot on the back of their heads instead of the front. As long as the ants were placed in front of the clear glass instead of a mirror, they acted normally, not touching themselves or the dot on their clypeus. However, when they were placed in front of a mirror, the ants once again changed their behavior. The ants with the brown dots that blended in with their natural coloring or with dots on the back of their head reacted in the same manner as when they were placed in front of the mirror previously without any marking on them. However, when the ants with a blue dot on their clypeus were placed in front of a mirror, they would groom themselves and try to remove the blue dot.
Interestingly, when more than one ant with a blue dot placed on their clypeus were placed together in a tray, they would react aggressively towards each other. The researchers concluded that this behavior was because the blue dot marked the other ant as an outside and not part of their colony. This led the researchers to conclude that the clypeus is an essential, species-specific characteristic that is very important when it comes to group acceptance. Since the ants with the blue dot tried to clean it off when placed in front of a mirror, and didn’t react aggressively towards their reflection, the ants did not think that they were seeing another ant, but rather recognized the ant they saw in the mirror as themselves.
Do you know what other animals have been tested for self-awareness and passed?