Szabo, B., Ringler, E. 2023. Fear of the new? Geckos hesitate to attack novel prey, feed near objects and enter a novel space. Animal Cognition 26(2), 537–549.

Neophobia, the fear of novelty, is an ecologically important response which enables animals to avoid potentially harmful situations. Neophobia is a cognitive process by which individuals distinguish novelty from familiarity. In this study, we aimed to quantify this cognitive process in captive tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) across three contexts: when encountering novel prey, foraging near novel objects and entering a novel space. We also investigated individual consistency across trials using different novel stimuli, and correlation of individual responses across the three contexts. We found that geckos hesitate to attack novel prey and prey close to objects (familiar and novel). Geckos hesitated the most when entering novel space. Repeatability of behaviour within and across contexts was low (R = 0.101–0.190) indicating that neophobia might not be expressed similarly across contexts. The strength of a neophobic response can indicate how anxious or curious an individual is. This test has great potential to help answer questions about how captivity, enrichment, rearing environment and cognition affect fear responses in different contexts in lizards. By studying reptiles, we can better understand the universality of what is known about the causes leading to difference in neophobia across individuals and species.

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