Spatial learning is critical to most animals for many behaviours necessary to survival. In vertebrates, most studies on spatial learning and memory have been conducted in mammalian and avian species with few studies on reptiles. We examined spatial learning in the corn snake, Elaphe guttata guttata by training 17 young snakes to find the one open shelter in an eight-hole arena, where the entrance was not visible from the arena surface. Over a 16-trial, 4-day training period, snakes showed (1) a significant decrease in the mean latency to the goal, (2) a significant decrease in the mean total distance travelled, (3) a significant increase in the percentage of the total distance travelled in the quadrant containing the goal, and (4) a significant increase in movement in the goal quadrant above chance. Although no differences were found in the number of errors made over the training period, snakes made fewer errors on all days than expected by chance. This study shows that snakes can learn rapidly a spatial-escape task that is relevant behaviourally and suggests that entering a shelter reinforces this learning. Mechanisms of orientation for the task described are discussed.
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Date of publication
Holtzman, David A.; Haris, Terrence W.; Aranguren, Guillermo; and Bostock, Elizabeth, "Spatial learning of an escape task by young corn snakes, Elaphe guttata guttata" (1999). Biology Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 31.