fish driving

(Credit: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

BEER-SHEVA, Israel — A goldfish in a tiny robotic vehicle is proving that animals from different environments can still find their way around when you take them out of their comfortable habitats. A team from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev successfully taught the tiny fish to navigate in a car on land.

Researchers wanted to know if an animal’s innate navigational abilities only work in their home environments or whether these skills are universal. To test this, they attached a set of wheels under a small goldfish tank. Using a specialized camera system, they recorded and translated the fish’s movements into directions for the wheels — going forward and back and side to side.

During the experiment, the team tested whether the goldfish was really navigating the car to a certain spot by placing clearly visible targets on the wall outside the fishbowl. After a few days of learning the system, the fish could successfully move the car to the target they wanted to see up close. The fish even showed an ability to recover and get back on track after bumping into a wall or encountering fake targets on the walls.

“The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment. Second, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in. As anyone who has tried to learn how to ride a bike or to drive a car knows, it is challenging at first,” explains Shachar Givon, a PhD student in the Life Sciences Department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, in a media release.

The findings are published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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