More Walt Disney World Resort Stories

Are You Smarter Than a Turtle? Find Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

You can find out how smart turtles are – and have a lot of other fun, too – when Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrates World Turtle Day, Wednesday, May 25, from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

World Turtle Day encourages us to take action to help turtles and tortoises survive and thrive. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can celebrate by getting an up-close look at some of the turtles and tortoises that make their home at the park, and hear how they can support turtle conservation efforts.

This year, families also can learn about the exciting research that we’re conducting on the intelligence of turtles – and meet our test subjects!

Eastern Box Turtle at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

This exciting study has been led by Research Manager Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Research Fellow Alison Grand, Ph.D., and our Education and Science team in partnership with our Animal Operations team. The study centers on Flippy and Mario, two eastern box turtles, with the purpose of finding out how turtles view their world. The question at hand: Can turtles tell the difference between two different colored paddles when a food treat is used as an incentive? Not only could these smart turtles always pick the correct paddle, but they also could pick the correct paddle when they were different shades of the same color!

Katie tells us that the coolest finding in the study is that Flippy and Mario learned to make these hard choices without any training. They just took what they knew about the black and white paddles and applied that knowledge to different shades of gray – and even to shades of blue. This ability to look at the relationship between two objects and make a choice is a skill that doesn’t develop in human children until they are in elementary school, and even then is something they can struggle with.

You can watch our brilliant turtles in the window of the reptile room in Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch during the World Turtle Day celebration at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., or regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:30 p.m. (subject to change based on the turtles and the researchers’ calendars).

To-date, Disney’s animal care teams have nursed more than 300 endangered sea turtles back to health and released them back to the wild. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has directed more than $800,000 to sea turtle conservation efforts through more than 60 programs worldwide.

Watch the Disney Parks Blog for information on other upcoming conservation events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

July 27 – International Year of the Forest Celebration

August – Cotton-top Tamarin Month Celebration

September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day

October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration