Animal cognition: how archer fish learn to down rapidly moving targets

Curr Biol. 2006 Feb 21;16(4):378-83. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.12.037.


In extremely rapid maneuvers, animals including man can launch ballistic motor patterns that cannot immediately be corrected. Such patterns are difficult to direct at targets that move in three-dimensional space, and it is presently unknown how animals learn to acquire the precision required. Archer fish live in groups and are renowned for their ballistic hunting technique in which they knock down stationary aerial insect prey with a precisely aimed shot of water. Here we report that these fish can learn to release their shots so as to hit prey that moves rapidly at great height, a remarkable accomplishment in which the shooter must take both the target's three-dimensional motion as well as that of its rising shot into account. To successfully perform in the three-dimensional task, training with horizontal motion suffices. Moreover, all archer fish of a group were able to learn the complex sensomotor skill from watching a performing group member, without having to practice. This instance of social learning in a fish is most remarkable as it could imply that observers can "change their viewpoint," mapping the perceived shooting characteristics of a distant team member into angles and target distances that they later must use to hit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cognition*
  • Insecta
  • Learning*
  • Motor Skills
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*