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Do Fish Have a Three Second Memory? And Are They Liars?

Updated on April 17, 2014

In a Hurry?

Scroll down to Conclusion / Summary at the bottom.

It's a Trap!

Or rather, it's a myth. And we're not really sure where it came from.

Dr Ashley Ward - a fish biologist from Sydney believes it may have come from an advert (though he is not sure what it was for), or from early experiments conducted by zoologists.

It seems zoologists tested fish based on their expectations of how a human would perform, therefore they fell short, very, very short.

Delicious, wonderful food
Delicious, wonderful food | Source

Five Months Is Longer Than Three Seconds

As you may have guessed, fish have displayed the ability to retain information for five months.

Researchers from Technion Institute of Technology in Israel trained young fish to respond to a sound which signalled feeding time. After a month of this training the fish were released into the wild.

Four to five months later, once the fish had grown into adults, the researchers played the sound again. They returned.

Great news! Except for the fish, as this technique can be used to mature them as produce while lowering the cost to do so. When they hear the familiar sound they are expecting to be fed, not to be food. Delicious, wonderful food.

Though it is kinder on the environment.

Also, Dr Kevin Warburton from Charles Sturt University's Institute for Land, Water and Society in Australia, found that silver perch can remember a predator for months after an encounter. And can learn to avoid it.

One Year Is Longer Than Five Months

As you may have guessed, fish have displayed the ability to retain information for eternity. I mean a year.

In 1969, zoologists from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted an experiment in which five experienced anglers fished for a three day period.

The fish were captured using artificial lures and tagged before being placed back into the pond.

The anglers returned a year later and found those fish that had been caught the previous year avoided their artificial lure this time around. They also found that once around 50% of the population had been caught this way, it became harder to catch fish that hadn't been previously.

Obviously pike are more organised than we imagine. First it's avoiding lures – next – HUMAN ANNIHILATION.

A couple of pikes.....
A couple of pikes..... | Source

What's The Time Mr Fish?

Fish can tell time. Blind fish can tell time.

Animals, plants and many other living things have internal clocks, generally based on day and night. Though they don't necessarily run on a 24 hour cycle, so take cues from signals like daylight.

Researchers from the University of Ferrara in Italy experimented on blind Somalian cave fish which have lived underground for 1.4 to 2.6 million years (that's a lot of years). And compared their internal clocks with that of zebra fish which follow a day/night cycle.

Naturally the cave fish's behaviour did not synchronise with a day/night cycle.

However, when a new signal was introduced, a set time for feeding, the researchers found that the cave fish's internal clocks did match up with the zebra fish.

So, fish have substantially better memories than we give them credit for, and can also tell time. What else do they do?

There is actually a lot of backstabbing going on there
There is actually a lot of backstabbing going on there | Source

Fish Are Bloody Liars

According to our friend Dr Kevin Warburton.

Dr Warburton explains fish improve and modify their behaviour in order to catch food, this includes deceit.

In reef environments 'cleaner' fish will clean small fry while being watched by larger potential customers. Performing a good job on a small fish affords them the opportunity to move onto bigger and better things.

The large fish will have no idea however IT'S A TRAP!

As once they've gained the trust of the larger fish, these cleaners are inclined to bite and attack them.

Special Mention For Goldfish

According to research at Plymouth University, goldfish can remember things for three months. They too, can tell time.

Some goldfish were trained to activate a lever to get food. Once they learnt that, the lever was adjusted to only work during a certain time each day. The fish adapted to only bother trying to activate the lever around the correct time.

And they even started to group around the lever in anticipation of feeding time.

Are You Afraid Pike Are Going To Rise Up And Destroy All Humans?

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Summary / Conclusion

  • Fish can retain memories for five months, or even a year.

  • They can learn to remember sounds indicating feeding time.

  • They can learn to avoid artificial lures after being caught just once.

  • They can learn to avoid predators.

  • Fish can tell time.

  • Fish lie in order to get food.


So, it turns out fish are actually kind of smart. They're at least surprisingly smart considering they're fish.

Fish Have No Memory

© 2014 Jamie Marsh

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