Do fish know what time it is?
Hey everyone! Yes, yes, it is that time! The time I realize oooops, I got so caught up with life that I entirely forgot about the Blog! I am now reconsidering the name of High Country Corals Blog ‘The Monthly’ and thinking of changing it, maybe I should call it ‘The Quarterly’? I would enjoy writing more often than every three months and I will be working on that but I won’t make any promises. Hahaha all kidding aside, I’ll admit, ‘Time’ did get away from me.
Speaking of time, I got to thinking about our aquariums and how much time we spend just staring at them in wonder, in awe and sometimes in anger, frustration or sadness. How much time and emotion we all invest varies person to person but I think we can all agree it’s an addicting investment, monetarily and emotionally. Are our fish emotionally invested? Are they aware? And if so, how aware? Do they peer out of the glass looking at us in wonder and awe? (Please don’t look out at us in anger and frustration) Do fish know who we are, do they care? Do fish have a memory or know what time it is? All great questions, we won't know on all of them but you’ll be surprised at some of the answers we did find….
We all have our own experience, our own perception. Time really is in the eye of the beholder and time perception in animals depends on their pace of life. The smaller the animal the slower time goes by. A study led by scientists from Trinity College Dublin along with researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews has shown that animals ability to perceive time is linked to their pace of life. Small bodied animals with faster metabolic rates, such as birds and we assume fish, experience time more slowly than large bodied animals with slower metabolism.
So this got me thinking, hmmmm, I hadn’t ever thought of fish having a pace of life. Do fish know what time it is?
Studies show that surprisingly fish are much smarter than we think and can even recognize human faces. According to Culum Brown, an Australian biologist, fish can recognize other fish that they’ve spent time with and actually build relationships with other fish, friends and enemies. It takes about 10-12 days for fish to become familiar with other fish they have not met prior. They actually have a social structure, a pecking order if you will and live in complex social groups. They clearly remember sophisticated spatial maps of their surroundings, in other words, they memorize the layout of their home aquarium.
I am not clear on how fish perceive time but guaranteed they sure know when it’s Dinnertime (Breakfast, Lunch and Snack time too)! Numerous studies have shown that fish are significantly more evolved than we give them credit for. The widely held belief that a fish has a three-second memory couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fish actually have very good memories. The most basic tank inhabitants will show anticipation of food on a regular basis. Fish learn quickly as to when and where food will be offered.
TPL -Time-Place learning is the process by which animals’ link events with both the location and time of occurrence. It enables them to decide which locations to visit or avoid based on previous experiences of the current time of day. A great example of this type of learning in fish, according to Brown, is when they gather at the appropriate time and correct end of the tank expecting to be fed. TPL allows animals to maximize their best chance for survival. TPL requires spatial memory and a sense of time. So the answer is “Yes” fish do know what time it is, not by a clock but by their keen memory of prior experience.
For me it sheds new light on how we see our aquarium fish and even more so about how they may see Us! Do fish know who we are, do they care? Do most people get attached to their fish and even more to ponder, do our fish get attached to us? Ask many fellow reefers and you’ll get a resounding Yes! I think there’s a great possibility that they can and do, well if you can keep them alive long enough for a meaningful relationship.
My husband Kevin, told me a story of his first salt water fish. He was 15 and just beginning his journey with setting up his very first saltwater tank. He had enjoyed freshwater aquariums growing up but this was the first salt experience. Upon setting up the tank he decided on beautiful purple gravel, yes regular freshwater gravel for his new 20 long tank with Skilter filter/skimmer. Finally after saving up his allowance and lunch money (who needs lunch money when "allmymoneygoestofish”), he finally had enough to buy a super cool fish....the Humuhumu. This cool reef trigger (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) is Hawaii’s official State fish. The full Hawaiian name is ‘humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa’ which basically means Triggerfish with a pig like snout.
Having no car at this age, he hopped on his bicycle to head for his nearby neighborhood lfs (local fish store). After making his purchase, he road back home with the bagged Humuhumu safely tucked in his jacket. I smile as I imagine his excitement peddling down the street as he must have envisioned with such anticipation putting this amazing fish in his cool new salt tank.
He was thrilled to finally have his first salt fish. But in less than a week, when the tank started to become cloudy and Humuhumu started to develop white spots, he knew something wasn’t right. The once beautiful fish was not well and sadly died soon after. Sure he had lost freshwater fish in the past and felt bad but this fish was different, it was special. Not only was it expensive, the most expensive fish he had ever purchased, he felt really bad when he realized the mistakes he had made. Humuhumu didn’t stand a chance. He could have thrown in the fish towel but he was determined to learn what went wrong and learn how to fix it. It all came down to incorrect set up and back to ‘Time’…not allowing the tank to cycle. Sadly no bonding time for him and Humuhumu :(
Of course, as thousands of aquarium enthusiasts know, you can have your tank properly set up, maintained, healthy and stable and sometimes fish still die. We all strive to give our fish, inverts, and corals…all livestock the best. We make a beautiful and stable environment for them but life and death still happens. Kevin has had his fair share of losses, he accepts it, and it is just a down side of the hobby. After having numerous tanks and oodles of different fish over the years he too agrees that people can form relationships and bond with their fish.
We have a lot of fish and I love them all but as far as feeling bonded I do have a select few that I 'feel closer to' I have my favorites lol and I think most people do have some sort of attachments to their fish and even inverts.
There are so many different types of aquariums. Saltwater, Reef, freshwater, tropical, cold water marine, jellies, goldfish, shrimp...you name it, in all different shapes and sizes too. Regardless of what type of aquarium is kept, we are all on the same path, striving to provide the best we can for the living creatures we have chosen to care for.
Instagram is loaded with millions of aquarium enthusiasts like ourselves. I so enjoy seeing all these amazing set ups from around the world.
I see a lot of posts that stand out to me, that clearly illustrate the love and emotion between people and their fish. These photographs demonstrate not only the beauty of this hobby but the ‘feeling’ of it. I have chosen a few photos from several fellow reefers on Instagram to share with you. Make sure to go check them out on IG to see more awesome pictures of their aquariums and fish.
'kimisreef' has a really cool tank set up and the Amazing photography never disappoints! Always fun to see and hear the latest about their tank and in particular the Clownfish!
'married_and_reefing has a great tank set up too, full of awesome corals and fish. They have a yellow tang named ‘Kevin’ who is my personal fav. Their clownfish loves to be pet, just like a dog. He sticks his head out of the water in anticipation even when they are just walking by the tank.
In conclusion, if you are a pro or newbie, no matter what type or how long you have had your tank, you can bet on forming some type of relationships between you, your tank and its inhabitants and it isn't one sided either. Your fish, when eagerly awaiting in anticipation for food at the front of the glass, may very well also be waiting and excited to see your friendly face! Fish do know what time it is and the word on the waves is…..
Go feed your fish!
How bonded do you feel with your fish? Do you have favorites?
Leave us a comment and tell us about your aquatic relationships, we'd love to hear from you!
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TJ & Co-author Kevin Rogers