Date

2019 12:00 AM

Major

Biology; Environmental Studies

Department

Ecology, Evolutionary, and Organismal Biology

College

Agriculture and Life Sciences

Project Advisor

Jim Holtz and Amy Toth

Description

Mirror-induced behavior has been used to provide a window into understanding animal cognition and consciousness. Recent studies suggest that some animal species, especially those that possess high levels of intelligence and complex social lives, are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Using a “mark-test,” an individual is marked in a spot which it cannot see without a mirror, and if the individual explores the mark (grooming, examining, or self-touching), then the species has been described as capable of mirror self-recognition (MSR). We were interested to test whether Polistes paper wasps are capable of MSR, because these insects are highly intelligent social animals that use individual recognition of other wasps as part of their natural nesting behavior. MSR was tested in the laboratory by recording and scoring behavior on individual wasps being exposed to mirrors with and without visible marks, as well as several controls including non-reflective stimuli and other wasps. In addition, we are also investigating the molecular mechanisms of cognitive behaviors in the wasps tested behaviorally for MSR by studying gene expression in the brains of individual wasps. If Polistes are found capable of MSR, this would be the first demonstration of self-recognition in an invertebrate. This study could expand the idea of the types of cognitive tasks vertebrate minds are capable of and contribute to a growing body of evidence that miniature nervous systems of insects do not limit sophisticated behaviors.

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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

Mirror-Induced Behavior in Wasps: Is an Insect Capable of Self-Recognition?

Mirror-induced behavior has been used to provide a window into understanding animal cognition and consciousness. Recent studies suggest that some animal species, especially those that possess high levels of intelligence and complex social lives, are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Using a “mark-test,” an individual is marked in a spot which it cannot see without a mirror, and if the individual explores the mark (grooming, examining, or self-touching), then the species has been described as capable of mirror self-recognition (MSR). We were interested to test whether Polistes paper wasps are capable of MSR, because these insects are highly intelligent social animals that use individual recognition of other wasps as part of their natural nesting behavior. MSR was tested in the laboratory by recording and scoring behavior on individual wasps being exposed to mirrors with and without visible marks, as well as several controls including non-reflective stimuli and other wasps. In addition, we are also investigating the molecular mechanisms of cognitive behaviors in the wasps tested behaviorally for MSR by studying gene expression in the brains of individual wasps. If Polistes are found capable of MSR, this would be the first demonstration of self-recognition in an invertebrate. This study could expand the idea of the types of cognitive tasks vertebrate minds are capable of and contribute to a growing body of evidence that miniature nervous systems of insects do not limit sophisticated behaviors.