Fish can learn despite small brains

A nine-spined stickleback fish is seen in a handout photo from the Fish and Wildlife Service. REUTERS/FWS/Handout

LONDON (Reuters) - A small fish found in streams across Europe has a human-like ability to learn, British scientists reported Wednesday.

The nine-spined stickleback could be the first animal to exhibit a key human social learning strategy that allows it to compare the behavior of others to its own experience and make choices that lead it to better food supplies.

“Small fish may have small brains but they still have some surprising cognitive abilities,” said Jeremy Kendal of Durham University.

Kendal and colleagues from St. Andrews University found in tests that 75 percent of sticklebacks were clever enough to know from watching others that a feeder in a tank was rich in food, even though they had previously got little from it themselves.

This ability represents an unusually sophisticated social learning skill not yet found in other animals, they reported in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Angus MacSwan