Yup, you read that right. The giant manta ray has recently been filmed checking itself out in a mirror, which suggests that the ray may have signs of self awareness.
Only a small number of animals, mostly primates, have passed the mirror test, widely used as a tentative test of self-awareness.
“This new discovery is incredibly important,” says Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado in Boulder. “It shows that we really need to expand the range of animals we study.”
But, not everyone is convinced that this means that the manta ray is indeed self aware, or that the mirror test is even a solid means of testing for self awareness in the first place.
Scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, captured two giant manta rays on film in a tank, with and without a mirror inside. Upon comparing the videos, the scientists came to the conclusion that there was a significant behavior change when the mirror was added, suggesting that the rays were able to see themselves in the mirror, and actually know what they were looking at.
They did not show signs of social interaction with the image, which is what you would expect if they perceived it to be another manta ray. But rather, the rays repeatedly moved their fins and circled in front of the mirror. This action suggests they could see whether their reflection moved when they moved. The frequency of these movements was much higher when the mirror was in the tank than when it was not.
What This Means For The Manta
“The behavioural responses strongly imply the ability for self-awareness, especially considering that similar, or analogous, behavioural responses are considered proof of self-awareness in great apes,” says scientist Csilla Ari.
This study may open the door to a broadened view on animals who are considered self aware, and may raise the bar to include manta rays in future studies on the topic.