Jaguar Reacts to Seeing Himself in a Mirror

A photographer put mirrors in the Amazon rainforest to see how animals would react, and it was every bit as entertaining as you would expect.

Wildlife photographer Mark Fernley set up a trailcam in northwestern Brazil to capture the reactions of various animals as they observed themselves in a mirror for the first time. The overall goal of the “mirror self-recognition” study, which Fernley began in November of 2017, was to analyze the intelligence of the Peruvian Amazon’s big cats.

The mirror self-recognition (MSR) test is a behavioral technique to measure self-awareness. Only a handful of great apes, cetaceans (whales and dolphins), the Eurasian magpie, and a single Asiatic elephant have ever passed the test.

To conduct the test, an animal is generally anaesthetised and marked with paint or a sticker on an area that they can’t normally see. The animal is then roused from anaesthesia and given a mirror to see if it will touch or investigate the mark after viewing it in the mirror. If it does, that usually suggests that the animal understands that it is looking at itself rather than another individual.

While Fernley didn’t mark the animals in his study, it was clear by their reactions that the big cats didn’t pass the test. Fernley explained, “When their eyes hit the mirror, it is clearly competitor recognition due to the animal understanding that it is another of its species in the mirror.” Even so, the footage provided valuable insight into the intelligence of a variety of Amazon species.

“By recording the behaviours of all of these different species we will soon have a greater understanding of just how intelligent these animals are.”