Monday 4 July 2011

On Conditioning

Every evening, at dusk, the white strip light in Jabba's vivarium goes out, and is replaced by a softer blue nighttime bulb. At the moment this is happening at about 9pm. Within a couple of minutes, sometimes a lot sooner, Jabba is awake and out of his warm hide (his preferred location), and on the cadge for food. His appearance at the front of his tank is our cue that it's time to feed the gecko.

On Saturday night, there was a special sense of urgency - this little chap had a fierce hunger. He was practically pawing at the glass to try to get out to the food. By the time Paul knelt down to get the locusts prepped, Jabba was standing on top of his calcium dish, staring very intently at the hand that feeds him. If you missed him in the photo, here's where he was:

The yellow tongs are an indicator of food. Paul is more frequently recognised as the provider of food. I am associated with being taken out of the viv, with baths, with a need to take a warm damp cotton bud to his vent to get stuck shed off, and with the V.E.T. Not quite sure how I drew the short straw there, but it is some consolation to me to know that Paul usually deals with the faeces too.

On this occasion, every time Paul lifted his hand, Jabba's head shot up to look. And once the door to the viv was open it seemed all he could do not to leap out into the bag of locusts. Clearly, he is very well conditioned. From a classic Pavlovian point of view, he associates night-time with food (there'll also be some instinctive association there, but since some geckos are quite happy to feed during the day, it's not entirely instinct). Tweezers are signs of forthcoming food. And his daddy is a definite sign of food. In a more Skinnerian way, he performs the desired behaviour in order to receive the reward. By standing, effectively begging for food, he receives the locusts he wants (although we still feed him even if he is, occasionally, sulking in his cold hide because he's just shed and feels soft and vulnerable).

Then it occurred to me. We, as his owners, are also pretty well trained. He has taught us that him standing at the front of the vivarium means he wants to be fed. And we dutifully respond and provide him with locusts, for his nourishment and our entertainment. Clever little boy...

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