Of course, we fishkeepers knew that anyway. But recent research has demonstrated that far from the few-second memory myth, fish can remember context and associations up to 12 days later.
Researchers studied Yellow Labs (Labidochromis caeruleus), which demonstrate many complex behaviours, including aggression, causing the scientists to predict that they could be capable of advanced memory tasks.
Each fish was trained to enter a particular zone of the aquarium to receive a food reward, with each training session lasting 20 minutes. After three training days, the fish were given a 12-day rest period, before being reintroduced into their training arena and their movements recorded with motion-tracking software.
It was found that the cichlids showed a distinct preference for the area associated with the food reward, suggesting that they recalled the previous training experiences. Furthermore, the fish were able to reverse this association after further training sessions where the food reward was associated with a different stimulus.
For fish living in the wild, ability to associate locations with food could be vital for survival. "Fish that remember where food is located have an evolutionary advantage over those that do not" said lead scientist Dr Trevor Hamilton. "If they are able to remember that a certain area contains food without the threat of a predator, they will be able to go back to that area. Decreases in the availability of food would promote the survival of species that can remember the location of food sources".
Dr Hamilton's interest in African cichlids was first inspired by reports from aquarium owners, including his colleague Erica Ingraham, a student at MacEwan University. "There are many anecdotes about how smart these fish are" he said. "Some people even believe that their cichlids watch television with them."
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