Reptiles

Cold Blooded Cognition Lab

Our cold-blooded cognition lab is interested in how reptiles see the world, how they learn about their environment and how they use and retain this information. We do a whole variety of studies investigating intelligence in reptiles. We are interested in all species but primarily work with red-footed tortoises and bearded dragons at the University.


“Reptiles have long been considered to be sluggish and stupid, however, our research has revealed that they possess an impressive suite of cognitive abilities”


Reptiles have long been considered to be sluggish and stupid, however, our research has revealed that they possess an impressive suite of cognitive abilities from complex social learning (e.g. Kis et al.,2015) to extensive long-term memory (e.g. Soldati et al.,2017). Our research has begun to transform the understanding of reptile cognition and has led to a fundamental shift in the perception of this group. 

One of our bearded dragons taking part in a study at the University

Reptiles are also great to test research questions that cannot be investigated in other groups. Patterns of reptile development differ substantially from those of birds and mammals; they can thus be used to investigate questions relating to external factors shaping cognition. Our studies have revealed that early environmental conditions (e.g. incubation environment) can have profound long-term effects on the cognition and behaviour of animals (e.g. Siviter et al.,2017; 2018).

Have a look at this video, featuring our very own bearded dragons and Professor Anna Wilkinson, where we explain some of the above work: https://uk.reuters.com/video/watch/idOV7XJ1D97 

The lack of parental care in many reptile species affords opportunities to test questions about fundamental learning processes. For example, it is assumed that living in social groups favours the evolution of social learning which is considered an adaptation for social living. Our work, however, has revealed that a non-social reptile species is able to learn socially, suggesting that the mechanisms underlying social learning may be the same as those underlying all learning. (e.g. Wilkinson et al.,2010). 

One of our red-footed tortoises, Aldous, taking part in a touchscreen study Photo Credit: Robyn Fayers

Here are some more videos showing our reptiles at work:

Tortoise Touchscreen
Tortoise Maze

Examples of previous studies include:

  • The effect of enclosure size on corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) behaviour and welfare
  • Cold-blooded care: are cognitive judgement bias tests appropriate for use with reptiles?
  • The impact of enrichment on cognition in reptiles

How can I get involved?

By signing your reptile up to our database, you are expanding the number of potential species that we can work with, opening up whole new opportunities for research. We will never ask you to bring your reptile into the University – all reptile-based studies will focus around surveys and questionnaires, or asking you to take at home videos to send to our researchers. Each study you take part in takes us one step further in our understanding of reptile behaviour and cognition – you might even learn something about your pet!

Questions about signing up? Please check our FAQs or contact us.


What reptiles do you have at the University?

We have our own reptiles at the University that are cared for by a team of dedicated animal technicians. We currently have a small colony of bearded dragons, and a larger group of red-footed tortoises. Our students frequently work with our reptiles to carry out behavioural or training studies for their dissertations, practicals and postgraduate work. Below are some photos of our resident reptiles!

Header Image Photo Credit: Martin Krondorfer