Forget Finding Nemo. With the right tools, Nemo can find you. Despite the prevailing myth that goldfish have a terrible memory (it’s actually much longer than three seconds), they can learn things — even how to drive, apparently. As described in a paper accepted in the Behavioral Brain Research journal, a team of researchers from Israel taught goldfish to operate a specially designed motorized tank, AKA fish-operated vehicle (FOV), toward a target, and the fishies blew the task out of the water.
Science often starts with a simple question, and these researchers presumably thought, “You know, what if there was a car for fish to drive around the streets?”
It’s one thing for fish to move in water: their brains plan a movement and activate fin muscles to make it happen. But can fish brains activate new motor skills?
2 fish 2 furious — Fish have driven little tank cars around before, but this is the first time they used their terrestrial transportation to accomplish a task. In a tank on wheels equipped with a camera, the fish could position themselves at the front of the tank to move forward, at the side to move sideways, and so on. Researchers provided the swimming superstars with a target, and once they got the hang of the fish-operated vehicle, they learned to travel to their destination in order to receive a reward (fish can have a .002g food pellet… as a treat).
According to the paper, the fish were able to “reach the target regardless of the starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies,” demonstrating that their spatial representation transferred to an alien environment.
The takeaway — By performing the familiar task (navigation) in the unfamiliar space (the street), the fish showed that the neuroscience of navigation is both sophisticated and complex. Even when their only window to the world was the distorted glass of their tank, the fish found their way around a non-aquatic place.
The paper points out that mammals, birds, and fish share formations in the hippocampus involved in navigation, suggesting an ancient, well-conserved neural mechanism for getting around the world. The study brings an empowering new meaning to the “fish out of water” idiom. Hey, if a goldfish learned to drive, perhaps you can do anything.