WATCH: Scientists discover goldfish are good drivers

Date:21 January 2022 Tags:,

They may have evolved in a watery world that’s alien to us land dwellers, but goldfish have proven that they can cruise through our world with a just a little practice. Case in point: scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel trained six goldfish to control a fish tank on wheels.

The fish learned to drive the FOV (fish-operated vehicle) both indoors and outdoors to reach a target and earn a treat, according to new research published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research in January.

Ronen Segev, a behavioural scientist and an author on the study, has been researching the biology of fish navigation for years and said that the long journeys fish make in the wild to feed and breed fascinate him, but most of these creatures cannot be studied in a lab.

The goldfish, however, is an exception. That’s because it’s especially hardy and thrives in a tank as well as in a pond. However, Segev was frustrated by the fact that a fish tank is not a good replica of a natural environment in which a fish would roam. Fish in nature live in a much larger body of water, alongside other plants and animals.

Given these constraints, Segev decided to test the goldfish’s navigational prowess by creating a moving habitat. Study co-author and biomedical engineer Matan Samina designed a vehicle consisting of a 1.5-meter-long water tank; a camera positioned above the tank; and a computer-controlled, motorised wheeled assembly.

However, the first prototype trial failed to support fish-led navigation. With the help of co-author Shachar Givon from the life sciences department, the team found a way to integrate the computer hardware controlling the wheels under the tank with the position and direction of the swimming fish at any given moment.

The camera, together with the computer control, takes a video of the tank from above. Image processing software detects the fish position relative to the tank walls and translates it into a command for the vehicle wheels. In other words, if the fish gets close to the tank wall, the FOV moves in that direction.

During the first navigation session, the fish’s movements were random. From the center of the room, it wandered around, eventually bumping its vehicle into the pink target on a lab wall and triggering a treat to drop into the tank. As each day passed, the fish repeated its quest for a nibble with increasingly shorter, more direct jaunts.

“This was very hard initially,” Segev says. He compares it to a human learning to drive or ride a bike. It’s not a skill we’re born with, but we have the brain capacity to learn the many small elements involved in these initially mammoth tasks. So do fish, as this experiment shows.

It surprised the team to see how fast the fish learned to drive the vehicle, Samina says. In order to drive, the fish needs the cognitive capacity for motor control and also the capability to navigate to a desired point. The goldfish proved it had both. “This tells us that goldfish, and maybe other underwater animals, can perceive the world around them in a way similar to land animals,” Segev adds.

Samina and Givon challenged the fish further to demonstrate, without a doubt, that they really understood the geometry of the room and their own orientation within it. The researchers put the fish vehicle in random areas of the room instead of in the center, then moved the target to different locations in the room. They put up additional, false targets in other colours, but the fish weren’t fooled. Each time, they rose to the occasion and learned to find the target efficiently.

“That’s the moment I was convinced, this isn’t just a simple task the fish is solving anymore,” Segev says. Even when they moved the FOV and target outdoors, the fish learned to find the target in its new environment. “Fish are amazing. People used to think fish are primitive. This is not correct,” he explains.

Watch it here:

Article source: Popular Mechanics 

Picture: Unsplash

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