The Mirror Study Gets into the Daily Mail

5th January 2019

As Mark Fernley continues the Mirror Image Stimulation Study (M.I.S.S) of big cats found in the lowlands of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, he and Untamed Photography interns are able to study the competitive behaviors shown when neotropical big cats come in contact with the mirrors. With the footage Fernley has captured, he is able to see a direct correlation with the aggression shown and the size of these cats. It seems as if the smaller species such as the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) seem to lack the competitive behaviors that are present when reviewing the footage of the Puma (Puma concolor). Multiple pumas are shocked at the initial siting of what they think is a competitor, but they tend to be very interested, confronting the mirror, pawing, hissing, and spending quite some time in front of and around the mirror. The Ocelots’ behaviors are much more submissive as they try to avoid all eye contact with their competitor by turning their heads down and away from the mirror as they slowly walk past. Another species of big cat that Fernley has been able to capture is the Jaguar (Panthera onca). Interestingly, the Jaguars seem to be more intimate with the mirror than any other species thus far. Once they realize there is no threat, they stick around almost as if they enjoy being in the presence of another individual, for example, one individual returns to the mirror around the same time every night for six nights straight to socialize with what he thinks is another Jaguar. With no signs of aggression, this male spends part of his nights lying next to the mirror.

While Fernley’s top priority in the M.I.S.S. is to study the competitive behaviors of neotropical big cats when seeing their reflection, big cats are not the only species that have been caught on his camera traps. Many other species including the Tayra (Eira barbara), Agouti (Dasypracta), and the Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps) have discovered the mirrors set up in some of the deepest parts of the Amazon Rainforest. By recording the behaviors of all of these different species we will soon have a greater understanding of just how intelligent these animals are.

Story written by Mark Fernley