The unfortunate goldfish often gets a bad rap in the memory department. As The Economic Times points out, it’s a common refrain that goldfish have memories of only three seconds or so. The way some tell it, a goldfish can swim from one side of its tank and back, and in that time, forget every detail of the area in which it started. This supposed fishy fact has been repeated so often that almost everybody believes it to be true.
Surprisingly, though, this beloved pet species deserves a lot more credit than that. In actuality, they don’t have remarkably short memories at all. Quite the contrary, potentially.
According to The Daily Mail, Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology conducted a study in 2009 to investigate this matter. It found that goldfish are not only intelligent, but their memories are many times better than we tend to give them credit for. In the study, a loud sound was played before food was provided for the fish. Over time, in true Pavlovian fashion, they understood that this sound heralded their meal, and would follow it. After around a month, they were transferred to the ocean. Four months or so later, the research team started to play the sound again, and the fish made a beeline for it. Three-second memories? Nonsense. Five-month memory, at least.
The surprising truth about the memories of goldfish
This is no one-off research or recent revelation, either. Speaking to Live Science, Culum Brown, Macquarie University (Australia)’s resident fish intelligence expert, stated, “we’ve known about the reasonably good memories of goldfish since the ’50s and ’60s … they’re actually really intelligent.” According to Brown, the fish are capable of identifying other, familiar goldfish after long periods apart, and can even learn (and remember) routes through tricky mazes.
That’s just the start of things, too. Waterworld Craze reports that goldfish can develop a sense of time. If they are fed at specific times, it seems, they’ll sometimes be found bobbing expectantly for that food right on cue. Some owners, furthermore, report that their goldfish recognize them, swimming in a more animated fashion and being less wary than they might before an unfamiliar human.
Though presently it’s impossible to quantify how long the average goldfish’s memory is, exactly, it’s clear that their reputation as the forgetful sillies of the animal kingdom is completely unfair.
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