Stickleback fish have been featured in News to Note before: on May 24 and September 6 of last year, along with a brief mention this past February. Each of those times the stickleback were allegedly providing an example of “evolution.”
"They have this human ability to only copy when the pay off is better than their own.”
But we didn’t expect that sticklebacks would be the latest intriguing example of animal intelligence, even earning the title “geniuses” thanks to research at St. Andrews University and Durham University.
A St. Andrews team observed 270 sticklebacks in an experiment designed to test the fishes’ learning capabilities. In one aquarium, fish were given worms from two feeders, one at each end of the tank. At the start, one of the feeders was supplying more worms, so the fish stayed around that feeder. But then the fish observed another group of fish in the same two-feeder setup. For this second group of fish, the opposite feeder was supplying more worms.
After observing that scenario, three-quarters of the fish from group one flocked to the opposite feeder—the one they had watched give more food to the other group. This is despite the fact that it contradicted their own, initial experience with the feeders. To the researchers, this demonstrated that the fish could observe a peer group and learn foraging-like skills and “best practices” from observation.
In a twist, the researchers repeated the experiment. This time, however, the second group of fish received the same amount of food from both feeders. After watching, the first group stuck with their original feeder, apparently determining that there was no reason to switch if there would be no potential gain.
This is the first proven example of a “hill climbing” strategy in animals, though LiveScience reports that chimps and some crows may also have the capability.
“These fish are obviously not at all closely related to humans,” commented Durham University’s Jeremy Kendal. “Yet they have this human ability to only copy when the pay off is better than their own.”
In other news of “surprising animal intelligence” this week, scientists have learned that rats mimic human behavior when gambling and that bacteria can plan ahead. In each case, the examples of unexpected animal wits remind us that God gave each creature the capability to do what it was designed to do, and that intelligence is more than an evolutionary by-product.
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