(PA) -- Fish do not deserve their reputation as the dim-wits of the
animal kingdom, a group of British scientists says.
Far from being instinct-driven dunces, held back by a three-second
memory, fish were cunning, manipulative, cultured and socially aware.
In some respects of their intelligence, they could even be favourably
compared with non-human primates, it was claimed.
The three scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and St
Andrew's in Scotland, and the University of Leeds, said conceptions
of the psychological and mental abilities of fish had undergone
a "sea change" in the past few years.
Biologists Calum Brown, Keven Laland and Jens Krause wrote in the
journal Fish and Fisheries: "Gone (or at least obsolete) is the image
of fish as drudging and dim-witted pea-brains, driven largely
by 'instinct', with what little behavioural flexibility they possess
being severely hampered by an infamous 'three-second memory'.
"Now, fish are regarded as steeped in social intelligence, pursuing
Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and
reconciliation, exhibiting stable cultural traditions, and co-
operating to inspect predators and catch food."
Recent research had shown that fish not only recognised
individual "shoal mates" but monitored the social prestige of others,
and tracked relationships.
They had also been observed using tools, building complex nests and
bowers, and exhibiting impressive long-term memories.
The scientists added: "Although it may seem extraordinary to those
comfortably used to pre-judging animal intelligence on the basis of
brain volume, in some cognitive domains, fishes can even be
favourably compared to non-human primates."
They said there were 27,000 known species of fish, more than all
other vertebrates combined.
Fish were the most ancient of the major vertebrate groups existing
today, and exploited virtually every conceivable aquatic environment.
There had been "ample time" for fish to evolve complex, adaptable and
diverse behaviour patterns that rivalled those of other vertebrates.
"These developments warrant a reappraisal of the behavioural
flexibility of fishes, and highlight the need for a deeper
understanding of the learning processes that underpin the newly
recognised behavioural and social sophistication of this taxon," said
Copyright C 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.
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