Red-footed tortoises don’t forget where they last found their favorite foods
There are times when you’re so distracted or unfocused that you can lose your bearings, even forgetting where to find something as important as food. Ok, well, for first-world folks, it’s not exactly dire to loose your way around the grocery store, or fail to find the cream cheese in the fridge. For an animal like a slow-moving tortoise, getting to a food source is an investment by itself, which is possibly why they’re so good at keeping track of where they last saw their snacks, even over a year later.
A study challenged red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria) to keep track of caches of food over an extended period of time. While wild tortoises normally have to rely on visual cues from trees, rocks and other natural landmarks, researchers trained the experimental turtles to associate colored sheets of paper with different types of food. These could be varied by quantity, or by how desirable they’d be to the tortoise. They wanted to see if the tortoises showed any preferences for the amount of food, or if they’d make extra effort to get yummy mango-jelly instead of the less delicious apple-jelly.
The tortoises seemed to have no problem keeping up. They were able to keep track of the various visual hints for at least 18 months, demonstrating their preferences about each possible bite to eat along the way. It was very clear that their memories were retaining more detail than the simple absence or presence of sustenance, making their treks to each food cache all the more efficient. The fact that color was enough of a tip-off indicates that tortoises living in the woods may be able to use seasonal color-changes in foliage to find their way around.
Source: Animals retain long-term memory of the biggest and best sources of food, Scienmag