Of all the animals that exist on this planet, only a precious few have the capacity to recognize themselves in a mirror. These fascinating — and at times hilarious — videos taken by photographer Xavier Hubert-Brierre reveal the reactions of various animals as they gaze upon their reflections for the very first time.

The ability to look into a mirror, and know it’s yourself looking back, is a cognitive skill we all take for granted. As humans, we develop this capacity when we’re around 18 months old, and it’s said to be indicative of the capacity for self-awareness. Personally, I think it’s a debatable claim; at the very most, we can say it’s indicative of the capacity for self-recognition in an alternative medium. When you think about it, the ability to grasp the concept of a reflection is quite advanced, and not necessarily indicative of self-awareness.

Other animals that pass the so-called “mirror test” include bonobos, chimps, dolphins, elephants, and some birds. Animals that fail this test include a host of creatures, including cats and dogs. And as this video demonstrates, gorillas and leopards can’t quite grasp the concept either.

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This silverback gorilla reacted to his reflection in an extremely belligerent manner, probably thinking it’s a rival.

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Even animals capable of passing the mirror test don’t do so immediately. It takes some time for the realization to set in (the same thing has been observed in dolphins). But once they make the connection, their aggressive behaviors turn to self-directed behaviors. Chimps in particular became fascinated with the mirror, which they used to visually observe inaccessible parts of their body. Some chimps even engaged in game-like behaviors with their reflections.

According to Xavier Hubert-Brierre, some of the animals began to exhibit addictive tendencies towards the mirror. One leopard stayed by the mirror at night, checking in every once in a while to make sure its reflection — or what it probably thought was a prospective mate — hadn’t walked away.

And when the mirror had to be removed for repairs, Hubert-Brierre wrote on YouTube that “great was their depression” during the mirror’s absence. The footage shows many of the animals loitering around the area where the mirror used to be. The photographer likened it to a modern family suddenly losing access to their television.


Contact the author at george@io9.com and @dvorsky. Images and videos by Xavier Hubert-Brierre/YouTube