Nov
02
2006

You’re so vain: Elephants dig mirrors

Mirror image: Researchers have found out that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror and actually look at parts of their body that they can't see on their own. Those are sure signs that that have a self-awareness, something that used to be thought of only being in humans and chimps. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Mirror image: Researchers have found out that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror and actually look at parts of their body that they can't see on their own. Those are sure signs that that have a self-awareness, something that used to be thought of only being in humans and chimps. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest elephant of them all?

According to the findings of a new study, elephants confronted with a mirror display the traits of self-awareness and will actually primp and preen in front of their image. Previously, it was only thought that humans, chimps and maybe dolphins were able to recognize themselves.

The findings come after watching three elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York handle themselves in front of an elephant-sized mirror. Among their actions were looking inside their open mouths and studying their ears. One elephant, Happy, even used her trunk to touch a mark on her head that was only visible to her by looking in the mirror. That, researchers say, is a strong sign of self-awareness.

An eight-foot-square mirror was put in the elephants’ pen to conduct the exercise. It was elephant-proofed in a frame of plastic reinforced with steel.

The pachyderms initially tried to look behind the mirror, underneath it. When they finally realized it was a mirror, they then checked themselves out.

Researchers contend that having self-awareness is the first step in having more complex behaviors in an animal. Those attributes would include empathy, compassion and other emotional traits.

But all this has got me to wondering: if an elephant looking in the mirror isn’t pleased with its own huge image, what animal does it think it looks like? It can’t be an elephant.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

WOW really? Will you be having an exhibit of this?

posted on Fri, 11/03/2006 - 1:17pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

I don't believe there are any exhibits in the works about elephants...but one of the 3-D movies playing here features elephants.

posted on Fri, 11/03/2006 - 1:26pm

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