—Written by Sofia Eisenbeiser—
Please give a warm welcome to the newest additions to Backyard Brains: the tiger barbs!
Hello, everyone! It’s Sofia, coming at you with an update on the BYB fish.
So, we last left off with making the discovery that one of our African cichlid fish likes to chase a laser pointer around his aquarium. Shortly after making this finding, I decided to sneak into a pet store and shine some lasers into the aquariums there – what if other fish like to play laser tag, too? Just a few days ago (with permission from the pet store employees, of course) I set out to answer that very question.
I grabbed three laser pointers; one green, one red, and one blue, and shined each one into Every. Single. Aquarium. As it turns out, a bunch of the fish chased after the lasers! And, beyond that, different types of fish chased after the lasers in different ways, with some showing preference for different colors. Some fish chased the lasers in schools, moving together in a group, some chased it individually, and some joined in with other fish who were chasing it after realizing how interested everyone else was.
This was fascinating to discover, and so much fun to watch! Even after five weeks, the intricacies and mysteries of tiny fish brains are only getting more interesting.
Here’s a short clip of some pet store fish chasing after the laser pointer in a different fashion than our cichlid. Based on the definition of play we covered in the last post, I wonder if this could be defined as play behavior…
Alright, so fish play laser tag (possibly). What exactly do we do with that knowledge?
Well, the first thing to do is to get MORE fish to play with. Of the fish at the pet store who chased after the laser pointers, we chose to get a few tiger barbs to bring back to HQ. (These guys swam after the pointers in schools, as you can see above.) Our barbs are getting comfy in their new home, and I’ve begun observing and recording their normal (control) behaviors to later compare with their behaviors upon presentation of the laser stimulus. It’s been so interesting to watch just how different their behavior is from our cichlids!
In addition to our BYB fish, I’ll also be making another trip to a pet store – maybe even a few – to record fish laser tag data that’s a bit more detailed. I’ll be considering things like: which fish chase the laser? Are they housed in a tank of all one species, or is it a mixed lot? What percentage of each species tends to chase the laser? Which fish prefers what color?
I’ll use this information (plus more) to create a master dataset of this very particular animal behavior. My other focus will be looking into the genetics, evolution, and neural/physical anatomy of tiger barbs, both to learn about them in general and to compare them with African cichlids. This sort of research will lend valuable insight into where these fish come from, and why they might do what they do.
As we near the finish – or should I say fin-ish – line of the fellowship, I can say with confidence that I have no idea where else this project will lead. There might be a whole world to explore inside the mind of a fish, and I’ll be thrilled to continue being a part of it for the rest of the summer.