3/04/2016 4:56 PM
We all know just how catchy yawning can be (gaping Mexican wave), and it turns out so does the humble budgie.
Journal Animal Cognition shows that contagious yawning occurs between budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus).
It suggests that these popular pet birds are empathic. They can put themselves into another animal's shoes and imagine what it is feeling.
Native to Australia, budgerigars are highly social parrots or parakeets. They form lasting bonds between mates and fly in large coordinated flocks.
Until now, contagious yawning had only been documented in humans, chimpanzees, domesticated dogs and lab rats. The budgie is the first non-mammal to exhibit the behaviour.
Researches at the State University of New York paired 16 of the birds in adjoining cages. In some cases the budgies could either see each other, while in others they could not.
In a second experiment, the birds were shown video footage of their fellow budgies yawning and not yawning on screen.
If yawning was contagious, the researchers reasoned, they would only see clusters of yawns when the budgies were looking at each other.
The budgies yawned three times as often within a 5-minute window when the birds could see one another than when their view was blocked.
Also, they yawned twice as often when they viewed video clips of yawning budgies.
No one knows for certain why we yawn. Most vertebrates do it. One idea is that it wakes up the brain by lowering its temp. Another is that it is a primitive form of showing empathy. It has been found to be more common among more empathic people.