Teach a Goldfish New Tricks

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
By Student

This is a repost.  The original article was published on October 30, 2008.

photo by bensonkua

photo by bensonkua

by Jeremy

If you have heard of dogs doing tricks, now there are fish doing tricks at fish school. At fish school, operant conditioning and shapes are used to teach fish how to do tricks. Some of the tricks (which you can see in this video) consist of putting a soccer ball in a goal, going through tubes and rings, and learning limbo.

Fish school was created by a father and his son who though that their fish were too boring. Later they set up different tricks for the fish and trained their fish to perform them.

One way the fish perform tricks is because they respond to shapes. Goldfish actually have a three month memory span rather than a small amount of seconds which they were believed to have had. The other way that the fish learn tricks is by operant conditioning with a reward of food. Once the fish is led trough the trick course with the food on the stick, then it is fed. This process is repeated until the fish can perform the trick without having to follow the food on the stick.

The experts at the Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews have performed tests to find more about fish intelligence. They concluded that fish are very intelligent creatures. One of the hypothesis about how the fish got their intelligence is that because fish are the most ancient of the vertebrate groups on earth and they evolved and became smarter over time. Fish are now known to have social intelligence. Fish have stable cultural traditions and they work together to inspect predators and catch food.

How do goldfish respond to color or light? Is there another way for goldfish to learn? How else could goldfish have gotten their intelligence?

16 Responses to “Teach a Goldfish New Tricks”

  1. Amy

    I think that this experiment is really cool and would be cool to see in action. I did not know about goldfish’s memory span. This information made me interested to try and find information on other experiments. One video that I found was of goldfish swimming in formations. I’m not really sure how the person did this, for he is speaking in a foreign language but it looks like he is giving them vocal commands and hand signals. It is really interesting to learn about and see in action.

  2. Carl

    I agree with Amy. I also think that this experiment is very interesting and I myself would like to try to train a goldfish. I didn’t know that goldfish were studied in such detail, let alone that they were able to be trained to do such amazing tricks. I tried to find a video in which it shows a goldfish doing other interesting activities, but came across a video that shows a complete fish training set and it being used by actual goldfish.

  3. Sam

    I found it interesting that the fish respond to shapes and that their memory span was three months. It was smart of the father and son to try out different experiments in their school becuase now they can see what goldfish are capable of which is obviously more than one trick.
    In this video, it is a dog who was taught how to play basketball. The man does not show how the dog is taught, but he most likely taught him to shoot and dribble by giving the dog positive reinforcement when he did the tricks correctly.


  4. Mike S

    Goldfish are seeming dumb animals but they obviously can be taught to to pretty amazing things. I have had many goldfish in my life and none of them had anything to offer in terms of entertainment. If i knew about this program I would have definatly invested in it.
    These “entertainment” skills are not a natural skill, they are learned. There are many animals that can be taught many skills.
    This video is a learned skill but it is helpful for the orcas survival.
    Video Here

  5. Justin

    I was always under the perception that fish were animals with little inteligence compared to other animals.I did not know that fish had such a large memory.it took trial and error for the father and the son to get the fish to do the tricks.in this video the woman teaches the cat how to swim.


  6. Matt

    I agree with everyone who commented to this blog so far, I thought this article was very intresting. I really didn’t know any kind of fish can do such a thing. Seriously I didn’t even think fish can be trained to do anything.I also didn’t know a fish’s memory span is 3 months! I thought it would maybe be a couple of weeks maybe a month. I would like to test this out if i had a chance to. I also did some research and I found that if you leave your goldfish in dark they will turn pale. The darker the room is the lighter the goldfish becomes , the lighter the room is the darker the goldfish becomes. I got this information from http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryfaqs/f/goldfish.htm. I also found a cool video on goldfish doing some diffrent tricks on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRcNqNvQZ9U.

  7. Erin

    I agree with everyone else who posted that the experiment was very interesting. I think it would be cool to see how the evidence of gold fish intelligence compares to other fishes intelligence. The memory span of the fish really suprised me. I found evidence that a Red Parrot Fish is also known for its intelligence and has an eye similar to a human in that it has the same structure with an iris, cornea, lens and retina. The retina contains rods which sees black and white and cones which see color. This indicates that the fish can see color.

  8. Adam

    Wow! I think to be able to teach a goldfish to do these extreme tricks is unbelievable. Certainly, it takes a lot of work to be able to teach the goldfish to do these tricks and for a father and son to team up to make this possible is amazing. Because they figured out how to do this, scientists can now truly understand the potential of teaching goldfish to be trained. I found a video of the man and his son on YouTube who discovered how to teach the goldfish to do tricks. He demonstrates similar tricks like in the video above, but the man also explains how he was able to make this possible as well.


  9. Rohit

    I think that this experiment is interesting. I never knew that they respond to shapes and that their memory span is three motnhs. I never knew that goldfish were such smart animals. I liked how in the video the goldfish could do more than one trick, this means that goldfish are good learners. Here is a video on a goldfish doing a trick with a marble.


  10. Vincent

    These fish seem to show insight on the situations, they solve the problems even though they would not experience these problems in nature. The obstacles were intricate and amazing, I had believed in the common misconception that goldfish had a memory span of only seconds. There are many misconceptions about fish, including the idea that they don’t feel pain. An article on National Geographic shows a study from Purdue on whether their reactions are reflexive or they actually feel pain.


  11. Lionel

    i agree with Sam that the memory span of the fish being 3 months was interesting, and surprising. The fish respond to different shapes and different tricks. I think it would be cool to see if the trick can be done by different species of fish. Also I think that the experiment couldve been better, had they give you more information on the age of the fish, size of the fish, and even what type of food they used because it is a possibility that if you change these things, the fish might not be able to complete the task of being trained.

  12. deanna

    I actually found this very interesting because i did not know fish have a three month memory span. I think it was amazing how the fish picked up on the trick pretty quickly. That made we research other types of animals doing other cool tricks. This experiment made me realize how animals really are smart, smarter than you think. In the video I posted, a dog is riding a skateboard. The owner, i assume, of the dog tells the dog to come back and the dog stops and then turns around and goes the other way, following his owner’s command. I found that amazing how the dog listened to the command and rode the skateboard well.


  13. Vasiliki

    This video is really cool. Who knew fishes could actually do tricks. Also, a 3 month memory span is actually a decent amount for a fish! That would come in handy for me! I found a video on youtube that shows two fish swimming through a hoop. They were trained by being given a reward(food)when they swim through the hoop.


  14. Jack

    Goldfish aren’t the only animals that can learn tricks even though we wouldn’t expect it. Goldfish could have gotten their intellegence from the fact that they as a species have been around for a long time. Although goldfish have the ability to learn to do things after seeing colors or hearing things occuring in the water (as proven by an experiment done by the University of Plymouth), it is possible to train any animal with a long enough memory span. For example, cats can be trained to do dog tricks as seen here and here (same cat). This cat probably could use some more training as it sometimes doesn’t seem to want to do the tricks. As with most other animals being trained, the cat was trained with food as a reward.

  15. Jong

    It was weird to see the fish do those tricks, and I was amazed at what many different things he could do, but not only was the fish smart but I think the owners were smart because they invented ways in which to train the goldfish. In the website below there are two examples of other animals that one would not expect to do any tricks. Also, if you notice in the video, the owner seems to treat the animals just like the other owners did to the other animals. By gifting and training an animal through sweets, in my opinion, is the best way to train an animal to do something. Notice also, the animals in the video respond to the hand motions of the owner, not only though the treats which tells you that the animals learn through body language too.


  16. Daverniushalam Obykasia

    Wonderful Post!


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