Fish May Be Smarter Than We Think They Are…

Written by on October 2, 2015 in Fish, Marine Life
Rabitfish cooperating while feeding. Photo credit: Jordan Casey.

Rabbitfish cooperating while feeding. Photo credit: Jordan Casey.

Plenty of previous research has shown that highly social birds and mammals cooperate while feeding, but that behavior had never before been seen in fish. In fact, many thought it was impossible for fishes. But now we know the truth.

New research from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University reveals that pairs of rabbitfish “cooperate and support each other while feeding”.

The pairs coordinate their activity “quite strictly”.

“One partner stays ‘on guard’ while the other feeds – these fishes literally watch each others’ back,” Dr Simon Brandl explained in a news release. “This behaviour is so far unique among fishes and appears to be based on reciprocal cooperation between pair members.”

Reciprocal cooperation is the key here. The idea of reciprocation requires complex social skills that fishes are not typically associated with.

“There has been a long standing debate about whether reciprocal cooperation can exit in animals that lack the highly developed cognitive and social skills found in humans and a few species of birds and primates.” said Dr. Brandl.

“By showing that fishes, which are commonly considered to be cold, unsocial, and unintelligent, are capable of negotiating reciprocal cooperative systems, we provide evidence that cooperation may not be as exclusive as previously assumed.”

While fascinating from a scientific standpoint, this study may also have ethical implications. If some fish are capable of complex social interactions, will we need to change how we study them?

To learn more:

Rabitfish cooperating while feeding. Photo credit: Jordan Casey.

Rabitfish cooperating while feeding. Photo credit: Jordan Casey.

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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