Red-footed tortoises are often household pets. If you own one, you may have to share your tablet computer or smartphone with it from now on. With the right training, they can operate touch-screen interfaces. Researchers led by Dr. Anna Wilkinson of the University of Lincoln (UK) created a touch-screen activity that red-footed tortoises were able to understand. Laura Geggel writes:
The tortoises, which are native to Central and South America, don't have a hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning, memory and spatial navigation, Wilkinson said. Instead, red-footed tortoises may rely on an area of the brain called the medial cortex, an area associated with complex cognitive behavior and decision making in people. To understand how tortoises learn, the researchers tested how the reptiles relied on cues to get around.
Wilkinson's colleagues at the University of Vienna gave the tortoises treats when the reptiles looked at, approached and then pecked on the screen.
The four red-footed tortoises in the study learned how to use touch screens fairly quickly, Wilkinson said.
"It's comparable to the speed with which the pigeons and rats do it," Wilkinson told Live Science. "I've trained dogs to use a touch screen and I'd say the tortoises are faster."