Tortoises are born with a natural preference for faces, according to new research from scientists at Queen Mary University of London, the University of Trento and the Fondazione Museo Civico Rovereto.
The study provides the first evidence of the tendency for solitary animals to approach face-like shapes at the beginning of life, a preference only previously observed in social species such as human babies, chicks and monkeys.
The researchers tested the reactions of hatchlings from five different species of tortoise to different patterned stimuli, made up of a series of blobs. They found that the tortoises consistently moved to areas with the ‘face-like’ configuration — containing three blobs arranged in an upside-down triangle shape.
The findings suggest that this early behaviour likely evolved in the common ancestors of mammals, reptiles and birds more than 300 million years ago.