Teaching an old fish new tricks

By Hannah Scutter BSc

When training aquatic animals many people will think of dolphins and orcas, but rarely small aquarium fish. However, there are a few well known aquarium species that have been seen to learn to do just that. Species such as cichlids, in particular Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus), betta fish and even gold fish have been taught tricks by their owners. With a combination of operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, lasers and clickers these training triumphs have been achieved. Supported by videos on Youtube, various blogs and facebook pages tricks such as swimming through hoops and playing fetch have been catalogued. In one such case a small aluminium foil ball was placed into an aquarium and a fish was shown to move the ball in front of its filtration pump in order for it to be then catapulted around its tank. This ball was then chased, caught and taken back to the filtration pump for round two. Colour recognition has also been expressed through similar learning styles.

A growing interest in such fishy fun has meant that there are now courses and kits available online to help others in their training adventures.

Perhaps we should all give our fish the chance to interact with us more often.