Goldfish Memory – Is It Only For 3 Second?

Have you ever heard someone refer to your poor memory as being “like a goldfish”? Alternatively, have you ever been compared to Dory from Finding Nemo? Admit it, you have! Moreover, if you have, then you are in luck! Studies have shown that goldfish (and fish in general) can actually recall certain information for several month and in some cases up to a year! This, of course, debunks the conventional three-second myth.

How much can they remember? How smart are they really?

The Sound Test: Performed on trout, carp and other large fish found in the wild.

goldfish memory 3 secondsScientists have been working to debunk this myth for some time now and are having great success with the help of “trigger sounds”. The scientists have performed experiments where they train captive fish to respond a certain way for particular sounds (i.e. a sound is dedicated to signal feeding time).

After about a months time the scientists would release the now trained fish back into the wild ocean where the fish would go about their natural lives for approximately five to six months. The scientists would then play the trigger sound, and the fish would return to their release point from wherever they swam to in that six month period. This experiment continued to work. The fish remembered the sound weeks, months and up to a year since last hearing it.

The sound test has become an approved method and is being used by fish farmers. These fish farmers would typically use expensive traps, cages, food and other devices for their business. They would be responsible for feeding the fish and raising them until they were big enough to put out to market.

The sound test has changed all of that! It allows these fish farmers to train their young fish with a “trigger sound” for about a months time and then release them out to sea until they have matured enough to be sold (and eaten). The fish farmer will play the “trigger sound” after the fish have been in the wild for five to six months.

The fish would then return to the fish farmers, fully grown and fat from eating what they would naturally eat in the wild. Of course, it is hard to forget that it is at this point that the fish farmers catch these trained fish and sell them at the local markets or people to buy and have for their dinner. But, I digress.

In many ways, the sound test is a “win-win” for everyone involved. It allows the fish to live their natural lives for a period of time until they are needed by the fish farmers. It also decreases the amount of environmental pollution that was created by the old method.

You may be thinking, “how are the fish winning? They are still being eaten in the end!” and while you would be correct in that they are still being consumed in the end, they would have been eaten regardless. At least this way they lived their lives in the wild with other free fish rather than in a cage.

Also, it is important to remember that many of these fish farmers live in villages where their primary source of food is the fish that can be caught. With the sound method, these fishermen can feed their communities, give the fish a happy (all be it short) life and also decrease the environmental pollution.

How intelligent is a captive goldfish?

Studies have been done to prove that goldfish are just as smart as rats, mice, birds and other small mammals. Scientists have recorded goldfish moving through (and completing) mazes just as mice and rats would.

There are also documents proving that goldfish are capable of recognizing other fish and distinguishing their skill sets (i.e. swimming abilities). Recent studies have been conducted that seem to show that not only can goldfish complete a maze, and recognize their tankmates but they can also tell time!

The Lever test:

A scientist performed an experiment testing the intelligence of goldfish. He set up a lever system that would dispense food to the goldfish whenever it was pushed. The goldfish quickly caught on to this magical feeding device. So, the scientist changed things up a bit! He decided only to allow the lever to dispense food during a particular time of day.

If the goldfish pushed the lever during the fixed period of the day, then they would be fed by the mechanism. If the lever were pushed at any other point of the day, then they would not be fed. The goldfish caught on to this change and eventually were able to wait by the lever until the right time of day when the lever would be active. This test has proven to many scientists that goldfish can in fact tell time.

My goldfish can be taught to do what?

Many researchers have begun testing the limits of the goldfish. Can they remember this or can they be taught to do that? Well, they have found that goldfish can, in fact, be taught to do many things once thought to be impossible by those who believed the three-second memory myth.

Goldfish can be trained to push levers, play soccer, perform a decent limbo, and even play a game of fetch! Other researchers have found that goldfish can not only recognize their tankmates but, they can identify their owners as well. Even the goldfish that lack the ability to see can distinguish their owner’s voice from a stranger’s voice.

Scientists have also discovered that goldfish and carp (yes, they are relatives) know the difference between The Blues and Classical music when each is being played.

Do you still think goldfish are not intelligent or lack a good memory?

Try testing your goldfish at home with some exciting and fun new trials. You can also place a mirror near your aquarium (or purchase an aquarium with a mirror built into it). A mirror is one of the most common intelligence tests that researchers perform on animals of all species.

It is thought that if an animal can interpret its reflection as its reflection, then the animal has a higher intelligence. However, if the animal sees the reflection and believes it to be another animal then the animal is thought to have a lower intelligence.

While goldfish cannot understand that the fish in the mirror is their reflection they do demonstrate some behaviors that suggest other levels of intelligence. Most goldfish will attempt to “school” with the reflection. This behavior is instinct for goldfish because they are highly social fish.

Some goldfish may even become territorial (especially during feeding time) and aggressive with the reflection-fish. This behavior is less common because goldfish as a species are rather calm and lovable. Aggressive fish are usually betta fish or other fighting fish.

Whatever feelings you may have about a goldfish’s intelligence you have to admit that you enjoy having them around, they have personalities all their own and they can be incredibly relaxing to watch.