A recent research from the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia found that some species of reef fish cooperate with each other when it comes to feeding, not only by hunting together, but also by supporting their fellows. The most interesting habits were seen in the rabbitfish, more commonly known as the Masked Spinefoot.
The rabbitfish usually travel in small groups in the Indonesian Pacific reefs. The fish has an ellyptical shaped body and has a beautiful yellow texture on its back and on its tail.
Before the study commenced, scientists never believed that they will find a fish with such social and “empathetic” skills, even though this kind of behavior was found in terrestrial animals that are considered not as smart as fishes – birds.
Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies claimed that rabbitfish groups coordinate their activity very strictly, providing safety for their partners against possible predators.
That means the rabbitfish who are more vigilant than others stay on guard while the rest of the group feeds. More precisely, these sea animals watch each others’ back. Scientists were amazed to observe these social patterns in the fish, they said that this type of behavior is unique among sea animals and is based on cooperation.
Fish were believed to lack any reciprocal cooperation before this study concluded. Reciprocal cooperation needs investment in another member of the same group, which has to be reciprocated by the other. The act is requiring complex social abilities and cognitive recognition.
The Australian researchers said that, until now, there has been a big question mark on whether reciprocal cooperation and other social skills can exist in other species than mammals and a couple of smarter birds. Scientists were skeptical, because, generally, fish lack the highly developed cognitive functions of terrestrial animals.
Despite this long standing debate on whether these animals can actually cooperate or not, the study from the James Cook University brings strong evidence that rabbitfish can do just that.
Fish are generally considered to be antisocial, cold and unintelligent creatures. By showing that they are capable of reciprocal cooperation, scientists proved that this type of cooperation was not as rare in animals as they had previously assumed.
Australian researchers noted that their study should further awaken more efforts from our side to understand that many fish species are complex social organisms, and that some of them should be treated more nicely.
Photo credits: Wikimedia