Weakly electric fish use active electrolocation for object detection and orientation in their environment even in complete darkness. The African mormyrid Gnathonemus petersii can detect object parameters, such as material, size, shape, and distance. Here, we tested whether individuals of this species can learn to identify 3-dimensional objects independently of the training conditions and independently of the object's position in space (rotation-invariance; size-constancy). Individual G. petersii were trained in a two-alternative forced-choice procedure to electrically discriminate between a 3-dimensional object (S+) and several alternative objects (S-). Fish were then tested whether they could identify the S+ among novel objects and whether single components of S+ were sufficient for recognition. Size-constancy was investigated by presenting the S+ together with a larger version at different distances. Rotation-invariance was tested by rotating S+ and/or S- in 3D. Our results show that electrolocating G. petersii could (1) recognize an object independently of the S- used during training. When only single components of a complex S+ were offered, recognition of S+ was more or less affected depending on which part was used. (2) Object-size was detected independently of object distance, i.e. fish showed size-constancy. (3) The majority of the fishes tested recognized their S+ even if it was rotated in space, i.e. these fishes showed rotation-invariance. (4) Object recognition was restricted to the near field around the fish and failed when objects were moved more than about 4 cm away from the animals. Our results indicate that even in complete darkness our G. petersii were capable of complex 3-dimensional scene perception using active electrolocation.
Keywords: environmental imaging distance; object feature; object recognition; rotational invariance; size constancy.