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Do fish play?

Discussion in 'Field Reports' started by Jan Cavalieri, Sep 21, 2019.

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  1. Jan Cavalieri

    Jan Cavalieri Fish Crazy
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    I'm asking the question "Do Fish Play?"

    This is meant to be a rather philosophical discussion. I assume everybody agrees that dogs play - or are they just pleasing their master - how do you tell especially on a simple species such as fish.

    Look at it from a practical perspective, an evolutionary perspective or whatever perspective you want (ie., your own observations and how they support your answer to the question).
     
  2. Back in the fold

    Back in the fold Fish Addict

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    I don't think they do. Fish seem to be simple eat, breed, keep strangers at bay type of creatures. If they appear to be playing it may actually be chasing as a form of mild aggression or an initiation of spawning activity. The only fish I wonder about is Goldfish. It does seem like they are playing sometimes but I suspect it's just me trying to pin my human assumptions onto them. I had a Siamese Tomcat once who I swear was plotting world domination but he was probably just hungry.
     
  3. Linda N

    Linda N New Member

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    I think they do but then I think my car and every car I have ever had, has a gender - LOL. Anthropomorphism at work - LOL.
     
  4. seangee

    seangee Member

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    My dwarf chain loach often lie on their sides or upside down on a leaf and play dead. When I had clown loach they used to do the same. I'm sure they just do it to mess with my head :rofl:
     
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  5. howard_hopkinson

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  6. Byron

    Byron Member

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    As it mentions in the linked article in post #5, how one defines "play" is key to making assumptions. The abstract of the scientific article draws certain conclusions, but without being able to read the entire paper it is impossible to assess the data.

    The specific "play" referenced in the one sentence in the abstract could just as easily be considered normal inquisitive behaviour over a foreign object that the fish may or may not appreciate being in "their" space. That is certainly not how humans define "play."

    As posts #2 and #4 mention, what we may consider "play" in our fish is more likely to be normal inherent hierarchial behaviours. What we see as play is more likely a serious interaction for the fish themselves.

    One extremely important point made in the descriptive text:
    Play, like much of animals' psychology including emotions, motivations, perceptions and intellect, is part of their evolutionary history and not just random, meaningless behavior [my emphasis].

    Every aspect of the life of a fish, from the specific water parameters to habitat features to numbers of the species to other sympatric species...all of this is programmed by evolution into the DNA of the fish. This is why we must provide these necessities as much as we are able if we expect fish to be less stressed and thus healthier. It really doesn't matter if we consider it play or something else, the expectation is there in the mind of the fish.
     
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  7. Jan Cavalieri

    Jan Cavalieri Fish Crazy
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    There is a story about an Octopus (I know not a fish, but it's an invertebrate if that counts). Octopus were taught to swim around their tank and using a chain turn a light on or off. One mastered it very quickly but still had to complete all the trials. Instead, he pulled hard on the chain and pulled the light into the water. Then he proceeded to swim around and squirt everybody with black ink.

    I've heard of betta's playing with the marimiso balls and some even taught to put it through a basket like basketball. Stressed out fish wouldn't learn that behavior but fish that are secure and have a lot of time on their hands might!

    You kind of have to look back into the animal kingdom and find out where we all can agree that the animal is engaged in play. Animals generally only play if all their other needs are met (so those penguins in Antartica holding those eggs on their feed don't count)
     
  8. Jan Cavalieri

    Jan Cavalieri Fish Crazy
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    I think a few of my fish play - my Dojo loaches for sure "wrestle" in what appears to me to be fun since they sleep next to each other every night. The rest of my fish - i'm not sure it's not all about safety and dominance.
     
  9. Back in the fold

    Back in the fold Fish Addict

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    Byron, your post # 6 was so intelligent and well thought out I was stunned. I wish I were able to say things like that. I really mean that. That was scholarly and thought provoking and everything I wish I had the ability to say to a subject that could be thought both fun as well as serious.
     
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  10. Jan Cavalieri

    Jan Cavalieri Fish Crazy
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    I think in their own way all the responses are scholarly and thought out - they realize the significance of the question I'm asking. There is a book Only Elephants Weep - the Emotional Lives of Animals that is a good one to read and The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould a well respected evolutionary behaviourist.

    The original idea being was that complex emotions like embarrassment, altruism, joking etc were considered by most people (and scientists and zookeepers in particular) as only existing in the human race. It goes against every evolutionary argument we had for physical characteristics which didn't just magically appear in the human race - but were composed of parts of physical characteristics that had existed in earlier creatures but in a slightly different form. So they looked for examples of emotions in animals. The man who saw a bear climb up a mountain every night and just stare at the sunset. Bats that will feed other bats that are sick (even if they aren't related.) It really amazed me that so many people didn't believe that animals had emotions yet they'd go home and observe the clear excitement when their dog saw them walk in the door.

    To me play is not really nearly as complex as emotions. It just really requires some spare time and relatively little though. Why should only humans have the ability to play? What other animals play and how far back in evolutionary tree do we have to go to find it (I would be hard pressed to believe that bacteria play - but hey, like Byron said - how do we interpret play? Maybe they do play.

    I think some captive fish play. But first they must be at least SOMEWHAT comfortable in their environment, not be bullied or stressed by other fish, not be lacking in food or decent water and they must have plenty of time to play.

    Now you'll see the immigration kids in cages lack nearly all these things and yet they still find ways to play - that's how desperate we are in our need to play - so at what point are animals equally desperate. How would we feel without play in our lives? If our only task was eating algae that was only going to grow back again in the same place? If fish can't "feel" at some level then they may not be able to play. I don't know.
     
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