Study Suggests Reptiles, Too, Can Learn Through Imitation

two bearded lizardsFor centuries, scientists thought that learning through imitation was unique to humans, only to have this assumption upended by studies in primate learning. Until recently, scientists believed that only humans and non-human primates could learn by watching others. A new study from the University of Lincoln endeavors to undermine this presumption with preliminary evidence that reptiles may be capable of learning through imitation.

Can Reptiles Imitate Others?

To evaluate reptiles’ ability to imitate others, researchers looked at 12 bearded dragons. This spiny, medium-sized lizard is a popular pet, with some bearded dragon owners insisting that their lizards are capable of learning complex tasks or imitating others.

Researchers trained one lizard to serve as a demonstrator. “Demonstrators” used their feet to open a wire door and uncover a hole in a board. Lizards who successfully completed the task got a food reward on the other side of the door. The experimental group watched the demonstrator lizard perform the task, while the control group had to perform the task without first seeing another lizard do it. Of the eight lizards who saw another lizard demonstrate the task, all were able to successfully complete the task themselves. None of the control lizards were able to complete the task, providing powerful evidence that the experimental group learned through observation and imitation. 

It might seem obvious that a lizard who sees another lizard complete a task will be more likely to successfully complete the task, but imitation is not a given in the animal world. Scientists have long used imitation as a way to judge intelligence. This latest round of research suggests that, rather than being a recent evolutionary development found only in primates, imitation could be widespread among animals, suggesting imitation arose earlier in evolutionary history than previously thought.

Reptiles are sometimes regarded as rather unintelligent, but this study backs up the anecdotal claims of reptile owners who insist that their pets are more complex than they appear.


First evidence that reptiles can learn through imitation. (2014, September 30). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Tom

    October 13th, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Being a snake lover, I have known this for years.

  • Jasonc

    October 16th, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    Are parrots not the primary example of imitators in the wild?

    I believe they learn sounds and sometimes even body language imitating others?

  • chad

    October 20th, 2014 at 4:01 AM

    good for them- now they can keep them and I will stick with my dog

  • Hannah

    October 21st, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    I guess that mostly I am kind of surprised to learn that this is even a possibility! I have never been a lover of the reptile, usually I shy away from anything to do with them to be honest- they kind of creep me out. Just doesn’t seem like the kind of animal that you can nurture and create that bond with the way that you can with a cat or a dog. I guess that there are those who have found out otherwise though and they are creating those relationships and doing the things that I really didn’t even think were possible. It still isn’t for me but I still find it kinda cool that there are so many other possibilities out there in the animal kingdom that are worth taking note of.

  • gamecockfan

    October 22nd, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    How many different reptiles does this really apply to? It could be that there are some that are smarter than others just in the same way that you will find that in the canine world. There will be some who are more apt to pick up on the repetition and the others it could be like beating your head against a wall to get them to do anything!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.