ZOOLYMPICS: Swimming - 100m Freestyle
The beautiful fish of the marlin family can swim at speeds up to 50mph (80km/h). The largest species, the Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), can reach up to a massive 20ft in length and 1800lb.
Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri)
Sneaking into silver position is the tropical wahoo fish at up to 8ft long and 180lb. Whilst lacking the spear-like snout of its fellow medalists this streamlined fish can nevertheless reach speeds of up to 60mph (97km/h).
Sailfish (Istiophorus spp.)
This incredible 10ft, 220lb, perfectly streamlined fish can swim at speeds of up to 68mph (110km/h).
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All good men know that the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach, and none more so than the swordtail characin (Corynopoma riisei). Males of this popular tropical aquarium fish take a rather literal approach to getting the girls “eating out of the palm of their hand” by luring them in with an anatomical ornament that looks like their favourite snack. The exact shape varies with diet across different populations - some, for example, take the form of ants where these are the dominant prey. This is an example of what is known as sensory drive, where sensory communication methods evolve by adapting to local environmental conditions. This can lead to speciation - the division of populations to form new species - particularly in cases like this where mate choice is affected. The swordtail characin is one of the few fish that reproduces by internal fertilisation, so by luring the female into close proximity, the male is then better able to position himself for mating to occur.
Ref: Kolm N., Amcoff M., Mann R. P. & Arnqvist G. (2012) Diversification of a food-mimicking male ornament via sensory drive. Current Biology [link]
New research has shown that Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) experience a feeling akin to frustration when they are not given a reward they are expecting to receive - a response previously only observed in mammals and birds. Debates over the ethics of fishing often throw up questions of whether fish are ‘conscious’ and have an awareness of pain, which has fuelled a fair amount of research in the area. Fish have been shown to be capable of responding to classical conditioning and to have long-term memories; however, we are still unsure to what extent their cognitive abilities are linked to conscious moods and emotions. This concept was studied in the salmon using a model commonly used in mammalian research called omission of expected reward (OER). In these experiments, animals are conditioned to associate a certain stimulus with a positive reward, such as food, and are then subjected to the stimulus without receiving the reward to record how they react. In mammals, OER has consistently been shown to cause animals to become stressed and aggressive.
Six groups, each consisting of 200 fish, were conditioned to associate a flashing light with feeding over a period of 22 days. By the end of this period, the fish showed attraction to the light due to association with the food reward, as opposed to their initial reaction of avoiding it. Three of the groups were then subjected to OER for 9 days - the fish were fed three times a day, and at two of these mealtimes, the expected food reward was delayed by 30 minutes. The other three groups carried on as normal, acting as controls.
When the groups were compared, OER groups showed higher aggression and greater hierarchy, causing some individuals to grow more quickly at the expense of others - interestingly, even during the one meal a day when the reward was provided immediately, aggression levels remained high. Stress levels were measured by detecting the concentration of cortisol (a hormone which is involved in stress response) in the blood, but unlike the variation seen in aggressive behaviour, these were the same across all groups, suggesting that although there were behavioural signs of stress this did not translate to a physiological stress reaction.
There are two possible explanations for the variation in aggressive behaviour:
- Dominant individuals may be trying to keep their position for prime access to food in expectation of the coming reward
- Aggression triggered by the stressful situation may be being displaced towards other individuals to help in coping with the conditions.
In either case this leads to stronger hierarchy and more uneven distribution of resources, as was observed in this study.
The overall conclusion is that fish respond behaviourally to frustrating conditions just like birds and mammals, suggesting this could be an adaptive response to unpredictable environments that has been conserved throughout vertebrate evolution. While we cannot yet conclude that fish definitely experience conscious emotional states, the results do highlight the importance of regular routine for domestic or farmed fish in order to reduce aggressive interactions between individuals that may be detrimental to the health of the population.
Ref: Vinas M. A. et al., 2012. Omission of expected reward agitates Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Animal Cognition Online first [link]
Diver Scott Gardner has collected the first ever evidence of tool use in fish with these images: this blackspot tuskfish (Choerodon schoenleinii) held a clam in its mouth and repeatedly bashed it against a rock until it cracked, enabling the fish to consume the soft bivalve within. Fragments of shell were scattered around the rock and found across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef where the fish was observed, suggesting this is not an isolated incident. The fish join various other species that have displayed use of tools, including capuchin monkeys and New Caledonian crows amongst others. The definition of “tool use” is controversial, and debates are on-going as to whether this behaviour truly constitutes tool use. A number of scientists believe that the tool, in this case the rock, must be held or manipulated by the animal in order to be classified as true tool use. But, with only their mouths to manipulate tools with, this is about as close as a fish could get. Some label the behaviour “proto-tool use”, which also encompasses behaviour such as gulls dropping shellfish onto hard surfaces to crack them.
Ref: Kessier (2011) Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools. Science online news [link]