Scientists Taught Goldfish to Drive… and They’re Not Half Bad

That person who just cut you off in traffic without using a blinker on your way to work this morning may not have a clue about how to drive, but goldfish — they’re not terrible drivers. 

You read that right… goldfish… driving. This is the world we’re living in, folks.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (who obviously had some free time on their hands) conducted an animal behavioral experiment where they trained six goldfish to operate what could best be described as a “fish car.” Technically, it was just a fish tank on wheels, but still… wheels!

The purpose of the experiment was to see if fish would be curious about exploring their surroundings on land if they had the means (via NPR). “The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment,” researcher Shachar Givon said in a paper published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research. “Second, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in. As anyone who has tried to learn how to ride a bike or to drive a car knows, it is challenging at first.”  (Some people are still learning how to drive a car.)

The mechanics of a fish car

So you’re probably wondering just how exactly does this fish car work? Well, there’s no suped-up engine under the hood. Instead, wheels were installed under a fish tank and a special motion sensory camera triggered by the fish’s movements sends a navigational signal to the wheels. The scientists swear that the movement of the fish tank wasn’t merely a fluke and that over time, the fish learned they could control the direction their tank moved in. 

“The findings… suggest that the way space is represented in the fish brain and the strategies it uses may be as successful in a terrestrial environment as they are in an aquatic one,” the study concludes.

According to NBC News, scientists eventually trained the goldfish to reach a target on the other side of the room upon which the fish would be rewarded with food. The fish even managed to reach the target with obstacles in their way. 

Not only do the findings of the study shed some light on fish movement, but fish behavior researcher Ronen Segev says it draws a closer connection between fish and people and may debunk the theory that a goldfish’s memory only lasts a few seconds.

“If you look at the phylogenetic tree of evolution, the branch that we sit on and the branch that fish sit on just diverged away 450 million years ago,” Segev said. “It’s not that fish are primitive, they just developed in a very different world from us. They need to solve sophisticated [problems] to exist in their environment.”

And in case you’re wondering, yes the fish had names. Each fish was named after a character from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Oh, and Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley had superior driving skills. 

Photos via Pixabay, CNN, YouTube

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