Individual and cooperative problem-solving in giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) (#894)
Otters (Lutrinae) have been largely neglected with regard to experimental investigation of their cognitive skills. This is surprising because some otter species show traits that are suggested to be an indication of heightened cognitive skills in other taxa: e.g. cooperative breeding and hunting, large relative neocortex size (compared to other carnivores), neophilia and social complexity. We present the first experimental investigation of individual and cooperative problem-solving abilities in two species: giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea). Field observations suggest that the very social giant otters cooperate in a variety of contexts including hunting, defence against predators and provisioning of young. Asian small-clawed otters are thought to be less social, feeding on prey that can be caught individually. On the basis of their socioecology, we therefore expect giant otters to have developed skills for cooperation such as behavioural coordination. In order to investigate this hypothesis we present the two groups with a well-established cooperative problem-solving task that has been used to study behavioural coordination in a range of species. In an initial step, we investigate individual problem solving in five captive giant otters and four captive Asian small-clawed otters. Subjects could access food by pulling a rope attached to a baited board towards them. Individuals were successful after only few sessions, efficiently refining their techniques over time. As a second step, we build on the performance in the individual task to investigate the cooperative skills of both species. In order to access out-of-reach food two individuals need to coordinate actions to pull simultaneously on either end of a rope to move a board towards them. Here, we will present the results from our ongoing study.