Do fish suffer from stage fright?

A new study has discovered that archerfish suffer from social inhibition.

Researchers have been studying the behaviour of archerfish © Warren Photographic

Archerfish, renowned for their ability to hunt prey by shooting them down with jets of water, have been found to take longer to shoot when observed by other fish.

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When shooting, archerfish must ‘aim’, aligning their body and focusing on their target, but sometimes a fish will aim without shooting. On these occasions, the fish will reposition before aiming again and making a shot from a different angle.

New research found that when archerfish are observed by fish in a neighbouring tank, they more frequently aim and reposition before making a shot.

“Archerfish may be famous for their shooting ability, but they may be even more remarkable for their capacity for making rapid decisions with high accuracy,” says lead researcher Nick Jones from the University of St Andrews.

Researchers believe that this change in behaviour may be a strategy to reduce competition from other archerfish.

Archerfish are able to rapidly analyse where and when a shot prey item will land, meaning any archerfish that witness a shot can calculate where the prey will fall and may be able to reach it before the fish that shot it.

By hesitating before shooting, archerfish may be able to find the time and position that allows them to reach their prey before a non-shooting thief.

“Our study suggests that archers are affected by social context and may sacrifice speed to better ensure success when foraging,” adds Jones.

Archerfish are famous for demonstrating behaviours and abilities that are considered cognitively sophisticated, such as the ability to compensate for the effects of light refraction while shooting.

Until recently there has been little research conducted into the social factors that may affect their behaviour.

Read the paper in Animal Behaviour.

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