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New discoveries show that fishes are capable of complex mental calculus, reshaping our ideas about animal intelligence underwater

Archer FishArticle: Scientific American June 01, 2016:

Author: Dr. Jonathan Balcombe

Website: Scientific American


Fishes have long been dismissed as dullards, but new observations and studies are proving this assumption wrong.

Archerfish, which capture prey with precisely calibrated jets of water, are showing how fishes can learn complex skills—and that they can mentally place themselves in the position of a fellow fish.

One species of wrasse, for instance, has been filmed engaging in a marine version of tool use.

While diving off the Micronesian archipelago of Pulau, evolutionary biologist Giacomo Bernardi witnessed something unusual and was lucky enough to capture it on film.

An orange-dotted tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago) uncovered a clam buried in the sand by blowing water at it, picked up the mollusk in its mouth and carried it to a large rock 30 yards away. Then, using several rapid head flicks and well-timed releases, the fish eventually cracked open the clam against the rock.

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In the ensuing 20 minutes, the tuskfish ate three clams, using the same sequence of behaviors to smash them.

Bernardi, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is thought to be the first scientist to film a fish demonstrating tool use.

By any measure, it is remarkable behavior from a fish. Tool use was long believed unique to humans, and it is only in the past decade that scientists have begun to appreciate the behavior beyond mammals and birds.

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(Above extract adapted from What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, by Jonathan Balcombe, by arrangement with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC (US), Oneworld (UK), United Sky New Media Co. Ltd. (China), Eidos Publishing (Korea) and Hakuyosha Publishing Co., Ltd. (Japan). Copyright © 2016 by Jonathan Balcombe.)