One of the most famous marine inhabitants of television, SpongeBob SquarePants, is a notoriously horrible driver. But new research shows that real water dwellers aren’t too bad at driving.
In a new experiment, six goldfish learned to drive a tank of water on wheels around the room. This feat of steering suggests that the navigational abilities of fish are maintained even on land. This, in turn, hints at that inner sense of direction in the fish something to do with terrestrial animals. The researchers shared their findings on February 15th Behavioral brain research.
The study was conducted at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. It is in Beersheba, Israel. The fish-mobile was armed with a camera to monitor the fish in a container of water. Every time the fish swam near one of the walls of the aquarium, turned outwards, the vehicle was driving in that direction. (Watch a short video showing the fish-mobile in action here.)
The goldfish learned to drive for about a dozen 30-minute lessons. Researchers have taught each fish to rotate from the center of the room to a pink board on one wall. They did this by giving the fish a treat every time it reached the pink board. During the first session, the fish made an average of about 2.5 successful trips to the goal. During the last lesson, the fish made an average of about 17.5 successful trips.
Swimmers could still get to the pink board when starting from different places around the room. And if the researchers tried tricks – to place deceptive boards on other walls or move the pink board around the room – the fish were not deceived. They still drove up to the pink board to get a treat.
“It was pretty convincing that the fish were actually controlled,” says Ohad Ben-Shahar. He is a computer scientist who studies neurology. He is also the co-author of a new study.
Kelly Lambert was “not entirely surprised, but still intrigued” by the fish driving skills. Lambert is a behavioral neurologist. She works at the University of Richmond in Virginia. In her lab, she taught rats to drive toy cars. Teaching fish to navigate beyond their natural habitat takes such driving research to the next level, she says. “I like the idea of fish out of water.”
Lambert wonders which animals are becoming the best drivers. “I think we need an international race between rats and goldfish.”
Goldfish driving “cars” offer a new idea of navigation
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