Fish Can Recognize Their Own Reflection, Experts Claim


| LAST UPDATE 02/07/2023

By Stanley Wickens
fish self-recognition scientific discovery
Sirachai Arunrugstichai via Getty Images

Fish are surprisingly smart! According to a recent unexpected discovery, self-awareness may not be as exclusive or rare among the animal kingdom as we once believed. Here's what researchers recently discovered.

Previous research conducted by animal sociologist Masanori Kohda of Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan unveiled that one type of fish, Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasses, are capable of showing self-awareness - a phenomenon shown to be exclusive only to certain species with large brains. The test implemented utilized mirrors and marks in order for the animal being tested to indicate whether or not they recognize themselves when presented with their reflection; something never before seen from Bluestreaks! More recently, however, a remarkable study found that some cleaner fish possess the ability to recognize themselves in photographs! This is a valuable insight into their cognitive abilities and suggests they have self-awareness like humans do, based on forming interior mental images of one's own face. Kohda explains that although “[it] is believed widely that the animals that have larger brains will be more intelligent than animals of the small brain,” we may have to rethink our assumptions.

fish mirror self-recognition IQ research
Francesco Carta fotografo via Getty Images
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Researchers hypothesize that animals, such as cleaner fish who have tested positive in the mirror test, may be able to recognize themselves by developing a mental image of their own face. They are then presumably comparing this internalised image with what they see when viewing moving or still reflections of themselves. Fascinatingly enough, it appears these creatures possess an innate ability for self-recognition!

"I think it's truly remarkable that they can do this," noted researcher Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study. "I think it's an incredible study." However, he challenged scientists to rethink the traditional "mirror test" for gauging self-awareness in animals, pointing out that even species with complex cognitive abilities may not always pass. Researchers have explored a range of factors, from reliance on scent to simply disinterest in one's own reflection, as possible explanations for why some creatures don't engage with their mirrored images. It seems we still have much more left to discover about this fascinating phenomenon! Stay tuned.

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