Reptile Intelligence

Reptiles do not get much of a good press when it comes to intelligence. However, new research is showing that they are much smarter than previously thought.


Emerald anoles surprised Duke University researchers by learning to open hinged doors and open jar lids for grubs. They also remembered successful strategies.

Social Learning

Reptiles aren’t typically considered the smartest animals around, but new research is proving they are surprisingly capable of learning through imitation. Scientists have found that bearded dragons can pick up new tricks from other lizards, which is a form of social learning that was previously only seen in mammals and birds.

Observing others is a common method of learning that’s been observed in many species, from 도마뱀분양 fish learning mating sites by following other fish to meerkats teaching their pups how to handle scorpions 1.

However, this study is the first time that researchers have proven reptiles are capable of social learning through observation, specifically through imitation. The scientists studied 12 bearded dragons and trained one lizard to act as a demonstrator by opening a door in a wooden board that covered a trap. All the subjects successfully copied the demonstrator, indicating that reptiles are capable of social learning through imitation like higher organisms.

These findings are a step towards understanding the full capabilities of reptiles’ intelligence. Other signs of reptile intelligence include eavesdropping on the warning calls of other species, reversal learning, solving novel tasks and evidence of good memory. This review uncovered that knowledge of reptile sentience is relatively limited, compared to the number of articles that have explored mammal sentience. Hopefully, as research progresses we’ll find out more about positive states in reptiles.

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Many people may have the impression that reptiles are primitive creatures with limited brainpower. However, this perception is unfounded; recent studies have shown that many reptiles have problem-solving capabilities on par with mammals and birds. This is particularly evident in the case of alligators, which have been shown to be able to unlock doors in exchange for food rewards. This shows that they have an understanding of how their environment works and what steps are necessary to achieve certain goals.

Another example of reptile intelligence is seen in king cobras. These snakes carefully study their prey to determine the most vulnerable point to inject venom. They then strike at that point to kill their victims. This is a level of calculation that shows that king cobras are among the smartest reptiles in the wild.

Tortoises also show impressive levels of cognition. One study conducted by the University of Lincoln in England tested a red-footed tortoise in a radial arm maze. The animal managed to complete the maze using a combination of memory and reversal learning, proving that it was indeed a smart reptile.

Other reptiles have also been shown to display a high level of intelligence, such as the monitor lizard, which can solve puzzles and use tools. They can also recall solutions to puzzles for months at a time, indicating that they have strong cognitive abilities. In addition, chameleons can adapt their colors to match their surroundings, which is an important ability for hiding from predators and finding mates.

Cognitive Abilities

In the past, reptiles have received a bad press and been considered to be “living rocks.” While they may not solve complex math equations or dabble in quantum physics, they still demonstrate impressive cognitive abilities that surprise researchers, caregivers, and trainers.

Reptiles have also surprised scientists by displaying flexible problem-solving skills that were previously thought to be exclusive to birds and mammals. For example, a study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that bearded dragons use social learning through imitation, something that had never been observed before in reptiles.

Scientists believe this ability to imitate others may be a survival tactic. It allows lizards to learn how to open a wire door that concealed a reward, while avoiding predators or the cold. The research also found that these lizards were able to distinguish between a genuine reward and a fake one.

Interestingly, this same study also found that the lizards were able to remember the order of the steps involved in solving the puzzle. This is a critical piece of cognition because it means that these lizards could use the previous results to determine how to solve future problems.

While this is exciting, it’s worth noting that very few studies have been conducted on reptile cognition compared to the amount that has been done on mammals. One reason for this is that many reptiles cannot be trained using the same methods as mammals, which often involve negative reinforcement.


Reptiles are known for being able to learn about their environments and surroundings. Scientists have observed them exhibiting all kinds of impressive abilities including social learning, eavesdropping on warning sounds from other species, reversal learning and good memory. These abilities may help them survive in their challenging and unpredictable natural habitats.

It’s also likely that the innate adaptability of many reptiles can benefit their welfare. As cold-blooded animals, they’re more sensitive to environmental conditions than their warm-blooded counterparts. While rats and mice run through a maze just fine in a lab at 70 degrees, many reptiles need a warmer environment to function best. As a result, they tend to learn the fastest at body temperatures that would be uncomfortable for humans.

For instance, a study on tegus (a type of Argentine black and white lizard) showed that the animals were able to adjust their metabolic rate in order to achieve their ideal mating temperature. This adaptive behavior is likely to help them avoid heat stress in the wild, where their bodies can experience much higher temperatures than in a lab.

While research on the sentience of reptiles has largely focused on the Squamata order (snakes and lizards), more work needs to be done to understand the mental abilities of other taxonomic groups of reptiles, too. Especially given the potential for poor welfare in the exotic pet trade, it’s important that we recognise their ability to suffer and feel pain, stress, fear and other emotions.