Animals of science: beautiful as a pig in a mirror!

Animals of science beautiful as a pig in a mirror

“Beasts of science” is like a collection of stories. Beautiful stories that tell the living in all its freshness. But also in all its complexity. A parenthesis to marvel at the treasures of the world. For this new episode, let’s go to the farm to meet one of the most common animals: the pig.

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An Asian elephant has brilliantly passed an intelligence test that a two-year-old child fails: you can’t pull a carpet if you’re on it. Carried out by the association Think Elephants International, the experiment shows that the elephant is aware of its own body, as also shown by the mirror test. A rare ability in the animal world.

A pig’s heart grafted onto a man. The operation was carried out at the very beginning of January 2022. So certainly, a genetically modified pig’s heart. But a pig’s heart all the same. Something to remind us a little of the crazy idea developed by Bernard Werber in his novel, “The father of our fathers”. The one that suggests that the pig could be one of our distant ancestors.

In reality, if the pig is of such interest to medicine, it is because, without being one of our ancestors, it has quite a few anatomical and physiological similarities with us. Similarities inscribed in its Genoa. And even a number of mutations associated with human diseases. L’obesity, the diabetes and until the Parkinson disease orAlzheimer’s.

The pig also has other points in common with us. Researchers have observed that it is able to adapt to new territories. To better colonize them. Own them. And unfortunately, regularly, to harm them. It probably reminds you of something…

But back to more positive feelings. And to some proofs that the pig has already given us also of a intelligence which approximates that of humans. So, did you know that the pig likes to have fun, for example. Some have even learned to play video games. The pig also has memory. He mostly uses it to remember the best places to find food. It’s true. But can we really blame him for that?

Moreover, speaking of finding food, it is perhaps thanks to this kind of gluttony that the researchers were able to observe in the pig, a quite remarkable ability.

The pig and the mirror test

To fully understand, let’s go back a bit in history and remember that, if it seems obvious to us to recognize our image in a mirror, this is not the case for everyone. Not the case for all animals. Far from there. Not many of them pass what ethologists call the test of mirror. How is it going? Make a spot on the head of an orangutan and place it in front of a mirror. You will see that this great ape to react to. That he will try to remove this stain on his head. Just like the bonobo or the chimpanzee, the bottlenose dolphin or the Asian elephant, the gray parrot of Gabon or the magpie. And, the pig.

Well, not exactly. Because what would make this test in pigs difficult, according to the researchers, is that the pig… doesn’t care if it’s stained. He actually has little reaction — or even no reaction at all — to the image of his soiled head in a mirror. So to get to the bottom of it, the ethologists imagined a slightly different device.

They put pigs in a pen where there was a mirror. The animals got annoyed at first. Some were furious with this intruder. But after a few hours, they understood that this image in the mirror was just… just an image. That she didn’t correspond to a flesh-and-blood pig.

A mirror and treats

To go further, the researchers then hid a bowl of food in the enclosure. M&M’s. Pigs seem to love it. And this is where their legendary gluttony comes into play. In order not to confuse the results, the researchers took care to diffuse the smell of these small baits everywhere in the enclosure. Only a mirror made it possible to reveal the location of the bowl. The pigs who had already experienced the mirror previously were not mistaken. They went around the barrier to go straight to the bowl of M&M’s. The others were fooled. They went to get the food…behind the mirror. At its apparent position.

All this seems to show that pigs are able not only to understand, but also to use the information they see in a mirror. So in the future, maybe you’ll think twice about calling someone a “dumb as a pig”! Unless… I admit that a few years later, other researchers tried the experiment again. With much less success this time. Only two out of twenty pigs understood the trick. Enough to suggest that pigs are endowed with a certain degree of self-consciousness. But not all…

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