FRANKFURT, Germany, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- A German study shows self-recognition, thought a hallmark of advanced cognitive abilities in animals, might also be present in magpies.
Frankfurt University psychologist Helmut Prior and Ruhr University biopsychologist Onur Gunturkun said they have discovered evidence of self-recognition in magpies -- a bird species with a brain structure very different from mammals.
The researchers said they placed a mark on magpies in such a way that it could only be seen in a mirror. When the magpies engaged in activity that was directed towards the mark, for example scratching at it, the researchers were able to conclude the birds recognized the image in the mirror as themselves, and not another animal.
The researchers said their findings not only indicate non-mammalian species can engage in self-recognition behavior, but that self-recognition can occur in species without a neocortex -- an area of the brain that has been thought to be crucial to self-recognition in mammals. Its absence in the study, said the scientists, suggests higher cognitive skills can develop independently along separate evolutionary lines.
The study appears in the journal PLoS Biology.