There's Nothing Fishy about My Fintastically High IQ! as Scientists Discover That Fish Are, in Fact, Far from Stupid .
Byline: MICHAEL HANLON
TO BRITAIN'S three million anglers, this will not be welcome news.
Their prey, long dismissed as essentially brainless, unable to feel the pain and terror of, say, a fox, turns out to be a far more perceptive creature than the dullard of popular legend.
To most people, fish rank somewhere below birdbrains on the scale of stupidity. Legend has it that a goldfish can never become bored, as its memory is so short that each circuit of the bowl is a totally new experience.
Fishes, the first group of vertebrates to evolve, maybe 450 million years ago, have long been thought to be essentially automatons - feeding and breeding machines. For example, the brain of a tiger shark - one of the world's most vicious predators and often up to 20ft long - weighs less than one of its eyes.
But now, a scientist at Oxford University has discovered that far from being stupid, these slippery creatures may actually rival many of the so-called 'higher' animals in IQ. And if fish really are that bright, the anglers' excuse that they are too dim to feel pain or terror will start to hold less water.
So how do we know fish are so bright?
And will we have to reassess the way we look not only at them but a host of other not-so-dumb creatures as well?
Dr Theresa Burt de Perera has discovered that one species, the blind Mexican cave fish, is able to construct a detailed 'mental map' of its surroundings.
The fish, as its name suggests, cannot see, having evolved in conditions of total darkness.
Instead, it relies on pressure changes to tell it the shape and nature of its environment - similar to the way bats use sonar waves to map their surroundings in flight.
Dr Burt de Perera found that the fish are able not only to swim safely without bumping into things, but can also create maps in their heads. They use this mental picture to spot changes in their surroundings, a task that defeats many 'higher' animals - such as hamsters.
This is not the first time fish have been found to have rather advanced mental powers. Last year, scientists at Edinburgh University discovered they possess a degree of social intelligence that would put some human networkers to shame.
Calum Brown and his colleagues studied the complex behaviour of fish in their natural social environment, finding that single fish develop friendships with individual 'shoal mates' and even have a sense of prestige and pecking order within the social group.
FURTHERMORE, fish engage in Machiavellian struggles to dominate their fellows, cooperate to avoid predators or catch food, and even gang up on one another.
This led the scientists to conclude: 'Although it may seem extraordinary to those comfortably used to prejudging animal intelligence on the basis of brain volume, in some cognitive domains fishes can even be compared favourably with nonhuman primates'.
In fact, the more animals are studied, the more their hidden talents are discovered. For decades, it became scientific dogma that most, if not all, animal behaviour was essentially instinctive.
Scientists and others who ascribed intelligence, emotion and other supposedly uniquely human characteristics to the behaviour of animals were dismissed as being sentimental, naive and …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: There's Nothing Fishy about My Fintastically High IQ! as Scientists Discover That Fish Are, in Fact, Far from Stupid . . Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: October 4, 2004. Page number: 13. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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