New research shows that, like chimpanzees, Coral trout can choose the right situation and partner to get the best results when working together.
Coral trout are good hunters but they often can’t get to the hard-to-reach crevices in the reefs.
In these cases the Coral trout will work with a moray eel to get to the prey. Either the eel takes the prey among the reef, or the prey is scared into the open water ready for the trout.
Coral trout use signals to indicate the location of the prey to the eel. Gestures include head shakes and headstands. Field observations have suggested that they also have the ability to assess when a situation required a collaborator and to pick the best partner nearby to get the best results.
Researchers at Cambridge University compared this behaviour with chimpanzees using similar experiments, and have found the trout perform the same or better.
The trout were given recreated hunting scenarios that mimicked their natural environment.
Using the same principles as the chimpanzees’ experiments, the trout undertook the same number of trials in the same time frame. When conditions required collaboration i.e. when the food wasn’t in reach, the trout determined they needed a collaborator in 83% of cases.
"Our results show that, like chimpanzees, trout can determine when a situation requires a collaborator and quickly learn to choose the most effective one," said Alexander Vail, a Gates Scholar from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who led the study.
"This study strengthens the case that a relatively small brain — compared to warm-blooded species — does not stop at least some fish species from possessing cognitive abilities that compare to or even surpass those of apes.”