Are ants capable of self recognition?

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About This Project

The mirror self-recognition test was developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. in attempt to test whether a non-human animal has the ability to recognize itself. We know that some elephant, primates, cetaceans, and birds pass the mirror test. Last year, scientists from the University of Brussels published findings that ants, also pass the mirror test. This is the first time an insect has passed the test. The study we propose will replicate their results.

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What is the context of this research?

When browsing Wikipedia, Paul noticed that the 'Mirror test' entry had been updated claiming that ants passed the test. This is the first time in history that someone has reported an insect passing the mirror tests. We reviewed the peer-reviewed paper published by scientists at the University of Brussels. This finding is so unbelievable to us that we decided to try and replicate it.

What is the significance of this project?

Ants are extremely social insects. The accomplish many complex tasks. I've seen them regulate the temperature their 5 feet tall ant hills to 70 degrees in 110 degree weather. They are capable of banding together to create a raft to cross streams. They're able to tell which ants are alien and which ones are from their own colony.

There are plenty of extremely social insects, but none that have passed the mirror test. If we are able to replicate the findings of the scientists in Brussels, this could open up a whole new conversation around whether or not ants and other insects are aware.

What are the goals of the project?

We plan to replicate the protocol outlined in the paper and present our findings to the backers of this project. If our findings are significant, we will publish in a peer-reviewed open access journal. If we raise more money than expected, we will add more species of ants to the sample or additional species of insects.

Budget

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We will be replicating the methods from this paper. Ants will be sourced from our backyards in California and identified for species. We will be using a GoPro to film this, which we already own.

We will also need a metronome (which we also own), to help measure linear and angular speed of the ants.

Meet the Team

Cindy Wu
Cindy Wu

Team Bio

Paul and I have known each other for 4 years. We first met in Seattle. When Cindy moved from Seattle to San Francisco she lived in Paul's house for a few months. While visiting Paul in Los Angeles (where Paul now lives), he introduced her to the mirror test and proposed this as an experiment to replicate.

Cindy has some experience working with ants in Eastern Washington, during her field ecology course in the Spring of 2011.

Cindy Wu

Co-Founder of Experiment.

Lab Notes

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