Have you ever wondered what would happen if a wild animal were to see itself? Would it recognize its reflection, run away or try to fight? One man was curious, as well (video below).
French photographer Xavier Hubert-Brierre set out to answer that question by setting up large mirrors in front of animals like leopards, a gorilla, elephants and monkeys, and he got a variety of responses, which he recorded and compiled into a stunning montage.
None were more hilarious or dramatic than the gorilla, who decides after gradually moving closer that the face staring back at him is a threat that needs to be dealt with. One moment, the gorilla is squared off and staring at his perceived rival. The next, he launches himself at the mirror and charges right into it.
BAM! All of a sudden, he collides with the mirror and falls flat onto his back.
One leopard has a similar reaction. After staring into the mirror, moving closer and closer, the big cat rears up and paws at its reflection, ready to fight off a competitive creature. As you can imagine, it's not particularly successful.
Other animals, including a group of chimpanzees, seem to show some recognition and realize that they are staring at themselves. As the four chimps stare into the mirror, they start making dramatic movements, watching their reflections mimicking them.
The whole process was far from easy, Hubert-Brierre said.
"I had to wash the mirrors on which leopards and monkeys left greasy streaks, traces of blood and feces left by insects hitting their surface ignoring their reflective property," he told Cater News Agency, adding that he and his wife "spent many long days at the site, often being attacked by different types of flies and bees."
It sounds far from pleasant, but the results are absolutely stunning.
The French photographer is far from the first person to examine animals' reactions to seeing themselves in mirrors, however. Indeed, researchers have been conducting "the mirror test" since at least 1970, when they put markings on an animal and then waited to see if the creature attempted to remove them once it saw itself in the mirror, notes Animal Cognition. Their reactions to seeing their reflections indicates whether or not they have a certain amount of self-awareness and intelligence required to recognize their own reflections.
Great Apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, typically pass the mirror test, although not all individuals make the cut -- particularly silverback gorillas, who try to attack their reflection, just like the one in the video does.
Many researchers believe that primates who fail the test frequently do so because they know that humans are watching them.
"Ironically, it may have been the gorillas' very capacity for self-consciousness that prevented them from exhibiting [behaviors] indicative of self-recognition in the test situation," experts Francine Patterson and Wendy Gordon from the Great Ape Project wrote in a study, according to Animal Cognition.