Gills Just Want to Have Fun: Can Fish Play Games, Just like Us?
- The behavior is “incompletely functional” and does not contribute to immediate survival.
- The behavior is voluntary, spontaneous, intentional, and performed for its own sake.
- The behavior may resemble completely functional behaviors, but it differs in at least one respect, such as context, or is somehow incomplete, exaggerated, or awkward.
- The behavior is repeated consistently during at least a portion of the animal’s life but is not pathological.
- The behavior is begun in the absence of stress, hunger, predation, or circumstances that are otherwise unhealthy.
2. Materials and Methods
- Chasing, orienting toward, and attempting to catch the laser pointer dots is not likely to be a behavior that contributes to survival, and the repetitive nature of the behavior suggests that it is not intended to serve an immediate function. However, it could also be aggression toward the dot, as it is an unknown stimulus. We note that a cat chasing a laser spot could also be considered an aggressive behavior, but this behavior is considered play .
- The fish were not forced, trained, or enticed to interact with the laser stimuli, proving the voluntary and spontaneous nature of the behavior.
- The incomplete behavior criterion is perhaps the most difficult to state as being concretely met in our studies. While laser pointer chasing behaviors performed by the fish did appear to be different from those present during displays of aggression toward other fish (behaviors were repeated in quicker conjunction and performed for longer with the laser stimulus), were the fish playing with the laser stimulus, or merely investigating it as being a potential threat or food? Since the interested fish could quickly determine that the laser stimulus was neither food nor a threat but continued to interact with the dot, we can state that this behavior does resemble functional behaviors but may differ in intent. Detailed experiments separating the motivation of the fish regarding the laser pointer stimulus would clarify this point.
- The observed behaviors were repeated by fish studied throughout multiple trials in our home laboratory. However, loss of interest was observed in our laboratory fish over time, indicating that the behaviors were not pathologically stereotyped.
- All fish tested were healthy, well-kept, and well-fed, so we can surmise that interactions with laser stimuli were not stress responses.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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12.1% (8 of 66)
Carassius stratus species
Cichlidae (REG assorted)
|Some Response: brief change in swimming direction / orienting towards the laser pointer.|
22.7% (15 of 66)
Carassius auratus (2 varieties)
|Moderate Response: following and investigating laser pointer for up to five seconds.|
42.4% (28 of 66)
Cichlidae (SM assorted)
Cichlidae (MD assorted)
Coilsa lalia Corydoras panda
Hyphessobrycon eques (2 varieties)
Nimbochromis venustus Poecilla latipinna
Poecilla reticulata (4 varieties)
Tanichthys albonubes Trichogaster lalius
Xiphophorus maculatus (4 varieties)
|High Response: interacting with the laser pointer for at least five or more seconds.|
22.7% (15 of 66)
Devario aequipinnatus *
Puntigrus tetrazona (5 varieties)
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Eisenbeiser, S.; Serbe-Kamp, É.; Gage, G.J.; Marzullo, T.C. Gills Just Want to Have Fun: Can Fish Play Games, Just like Us? Animals 2022, 12, 1684. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12131684
Eisenbeiser S, Serbe-Kamp É, Gage GJ, Marzullo TC. Gills Just Want to Have Fun: Can Fish Play Games, Just like Us? Animals. 2022; 12(13):1684. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12131684Chicago/Turabian Style
Eisenbeiser, Sofia, Étienne Serbe-Kamp, Gregory J. Gage, and Timothy C. Marzullo. 2022. "Gills Just Want to Have Fun: Can Fish Play Games, Just like Us?" Animals 12, no. 13: 1684. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12131684