Goldfish driving “cars” offer a new idea of ​​navigation

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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.”

Figure: A goldfish with human legs standing in front of an empty classroom.[Fish speech bubble: Where’s all the water?] Image text (above): Many terrestrial animals know how to move underwater.  But is the opposite true?  Text of the image (below): If a fish had lungs and legs to move on land, could it navigate in this unfamiliar world?"
Image: a goldfish in a square aquarium on wheels, with a camera on a pole glued to the aquarium. [Fish speech bubble: Sweet wheels!] Text image (above): No one has the magic of Disney to give fish legs.  Thus, researchers from the University of Ben Gurion in the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, built a
Image: A goldfish in an aquarium on wheels heads for a large pink square on the wall. [Fish speech bubble: To the drive-through!]Text of the image (above): Researchers have taught six goldfish to lead an aquarium from the center of the room to a pink board on one wall.  Every time the fish got to the board, she got a treat.  Image text (below): Fish learned this skill in about a dozen 30-minute lessons.
Figure: A graph showing how fish have improved over time.  In the upper right corner the fish is in an aquarium on wheels. [Fish speech bubble: How’d I do?]Text of the image (above): The more fish were chased, the better it was.  In the last lesson, they got to the pink board many more times than in the first.  Text of the image (below): By the end of the release the driver of the fish was also taking more direct routes, getting to his destination faster.
Image: From a bird’s eye view, the pathways by which fish passed from their starting positions to the pink board during each of these three additional tests.  Image text (above): The fish could still get to the pink board when it started from different places around the room ... Image text (middle): ... and when scientists put colored boards on other walls ... Image text below): ... even if the pink board was moved to the other side of the room (although it took a couple of tries).
Image: A fish in an aquarium coming out of a science lab is sent to campus with a dog, followed by a scientist shouting and pointing.[Scientist speech bubble: Stop that fish!]

[Fish speech bubble: Ready for a road trip?]

[Dog speech bubble: Woof!]Image text: These results suggest that the navigation skills of fish are not limited to their natural habitat.  They may even have something to do with the feeling of terrestrial animals.



Goldfish driving “cars” offer a new idea of ​​navigation

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