Study Says Fish Have Good Memory

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Electric Yellow Cichlid (Labidochromis Caeruleus). Via Catherine Bulinski/Flickr
John Virata

Sometimes I can’t remember where I put my keys, let alone what I ate for dinner 12 days ago. African cichlids, however, have complex memory capabilities and are smarter than most other aquarium fish. Some keepers even claim that they watch TV as well.


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The Cichlids of Lake Malawi
Keeping Electric Yellow Cichlids


A recent study of the African cichlid Labidochromis caeruleus, known as the yellow lab in the hobby, has determined that fish can remember things, and in the case of the cichlid, they can remember things that happened 12 days ago. Scientists with MacEwan University in Canada, wanted to test the memory of the cichlid because of reports that the fish are intelligent, and exhibit complex behavior such as aggression.

The scientists, led by Dr. Trevor Hamilton, trained the fish for three days in a fish tank, rewarding the fish with food when they swam to a designated part of the tank. The fish were then removed from the tank for 12 days before reintroducing them to the tank and recorded the movements of the fish using software that tracks the motion of the fish.

The scientists then waited for 12 days before putting the fish back in the tank and recorded their movements with motion-tracking software. The fish, as if on cue, or better yet, by using their memory, swam to the part of the fish tank where they were fed the fish food rather than the other section of the tank.

“This is very exciting because it demonstrates that this species of cichlid is capable of forming a reinforcement-based association and holding it in memory for a long period of time,” Hamilton said in a prepared statement. “Furthermore, this memory trace can be forgotten and replaced by a new long-term memory.”

Labidochromis caeruleus is one of the more popular cichlids in the hobby due in part to its more mild manner compared to other Lake Malawi cichlids, which can be very aggressive.

 John B. Virata has been keeping fish since he was 10 years old.  He currently keeps an 80 gallon cichlid tank, a 20 gallon freshwater community tank and a 29 gallon BioCube with a Percula clown, a huge blue green chromis, and a firefish all in his kitchen, and a 55 gallon FOWLR tank with a pair of Ocellaris clowns, two blue green chromis, a six line wrasse, a peppermint shrimp, assorted algae and a few aiptasia anemones in his living room. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata.

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Fish · Lifestyle