While studies have demonstrated concept formation in animals, only humans are known to label concepts to use them in mental simulations or predictions. To investigate whether other animals use labels comparably, we studied cross-modal, individual recognition in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) that use signature whistles as labels for conspecifics in their own communication. First, we tested whether dolphins could use gustatory stimuli and found that they could distinguish between water and urine samples, as well as between urine from familiar and unfamiliar individuals. Then, we paired playbacks of signature whistles of known animals with urine samples from either the same dolphin or a different, familiar animal. Dolphins investigated the presentation area longer when the acoustic and gustatory sample matched than when they mismatched. This demonstrates that dolphins recognize other individuals by gustation alone and can integrate information from acoustic and taste inputs indicating a modality independent, labeled concept for known conspecifics.
Bruck, Jason N.; Walmsley, Sam F.; and Janik, Vincent M., "Cross-modal perception of identity by sound and taste in bottlenose dolphins" (2022). Faculty Publications. 185.
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