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J Comp Psychol. 2007 May;121(2):198-204.

Visual discrimination by heifers (Bos taurus) of their own species.

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Laboratoire d'Ethologie Experimentale et Comparee, Universite Paris 13, Villetaneuse, France.


Species discrimination has been described in several taxa but rarely in domestic animals. In contrast to wild species, domestic species present a great phenotypic variety. This study investigated whether 10 Prim'Holstein heifers (Bos taurus) could discriminate images of cows from images of other domestic animals. The experiment was based on simultaneous discrimination. Responses were obtained through instrumental conditioning using a food reward. In Experiment 1, the reward was associated with a cow face and, in the reversal learning task, with faces of other domestic species. The results showed that in both tasks, cows were able to reach the criterion in few sessions. Therefore, despite great phenotypic variety (a cognitive challenge) cows were able to visually discriminate their own species from other domestic species.

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