Um, Just Send a Gift Thanks, Nine-Spine Stickleback.

Nine-spined stickleback

As recently reported in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology, nine-spine sticklebacks have been named the geniuses of the fish world, after researchers in Leicestershire discovered that they possess a learning method previously unseen in any other animal apart from humans. Known as “hill-climbing,” this type of sophisticated social learning causes the fish to be selective about who and when they copy in order to achieve optimal results.

In the experiment, 270 nine-spine sticklebacks were placed in tanks and were supplied food by two feeders at either end, with one significantly more generous than the other, dubbed the “rich feeder.” The fish quickly identified the rich feeder and would naturally gravitate towards him, until the sticklebacks were removed from the tank and the feeders swapped. The original sticklebacks were replaced with a new group who were fed by the switched feeders while the original sticklebacks were forced to watch. Once back in the tank, 75% of the original sticklebacks were “clever” enough to correctly identify which end of the tank the rich feeder was at, having learnt from their observation of the second group of sticklebacks. This cognitive strategy has yet to be definitively shown in any other non-human animals so far.

So alright yes, Nine-Spine Stickleback, a genius you may well be, but I’m willing to bet you haven’t been invited to many wedding receptions of late, now have you? Well not since the nautilus’ reception two years ago at least. That was a right debacle, Stickleback, no thanks to you. The moment you arrive you’re all, “Hey does anyone know where the hors d’oeuvres come out?” and a carp with a mouthful of pastries points across the room, only that’s where the nautilus’ mother is hovering and she starts talking to you about wedding planners and pyramid schemes, and pretty soon it’s like, “Have you noticed that the waiter coming out of this door has so far only distributed one tray while the waiter coming out of that door has already done three?”

But Madame Nautilus just blinks at you and pulls out a notepad and pen and starts drawing some kind of triangular diagram for you, so you’re like, “Oh hell no!” and start backing away towards the other kitchen door. Only you accidentally bump into a seahorse and fully make her spill red wine all over herself, and you’re all, “Way to be drunk already… Jesus!” as you slink away, and she starts trumpeting angry profanities after you with her wee little mouth.

And then it’s like, “Hey isn’t that the jawfish who did it with your cousin in the car park after that show that time?” and everyone within earshot turns around as you surreptitiously switch the place cards so you can sit between the giggly cherry salmon sisters with the impressive cleavage and tightly-clinging scales. Then the entrees arrive and it’s chicken liver paté or stuffed peppers and you tap the sea bass sitting behind you on the shoulder all, “How’s the paté?” and he’s like, “Exquisite.” And meanwhile the lampreys are swapping their dishes because she’s making a fuss about how underwhelming the peppers are and he knows better than to argue with her, unlike the lady cod’s partner who’s doing a pretty good job ignoring her futile sad-faced requests to trade.

And then your table is served, and oh look, Stickleback, you got the peppers, so you urgently grab the waiter by the crisp, white sleeve and tell him, “Boy, I’m afraid I forgot to mention that I’m allergic to peppers…” And he replaces them with the paté while giving you this look like, “Dude, if you don’t want the peppers, just say you don’t want the peppers, I really don’t care. It’s not like I haven’t already drunk an entire bottle of champagne already. There’s champagne all over the fucking place, it’s even in the bathroom, what the fuck is that about? Oh and LOL at ‘allergic to peppers.’ Arsehole.” before rasing his eyebrows rather judgementally at one of the cherry salmon sisters who is indelicately cleaning some of her peppers from her décolletage.

A dozen dense quasi-observations by the cherry salmon sisters about politics later and the mains start to arrive and you’re looking around like, “I kind of want the bigger one, you know?” And then you see that they’re alternating swordfish with veal and the veal’s like massive, so when the waiter stumbles over to your table and serves you the swordfish (of course, Stickleback), you grab his sleeve and tell him, “Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I’m also allergic to fish.”

The cover band comes to a sudden halt with a wobbly off-key trumpet bleat and a couple of drum sticks tumbling noisily to the floor. The overreaching shocked silence is broken only by the myriad outraged whispers from every one of the seated guests and you sheepishly excuse yourself and make for the bathroom muttering, “something something – cannibals – something something.” Unfortunately you’re intercepted by a pack of half a dozen border collies who come bursting through the kitchen doors and shepherd you noisily from the venue amidst a resounding chorus of “good riddance” and “bad egg.”

– bec


Filed under Science, Sea Creatures

3 responses to “Um, Just Send a Gift Thanks, Nine-Spine Stickleback.

  1. Wow.

    I mean… wow.

  2. If you are interested in stickleback fish, you might enjoy this song parody about research on stickleback evolution!

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