Here’s something neat. In a new study published in Current Biology, scientists at the University of Bayreuth in Germany have deemed the archerfish “the first known tool-using animal to adaptively change the hydrodynamic properties of a free jet of water.” That’s a fancy way of saying that these scaly sharpshooters can be trained to adapt and improve their ability to knock prey out of the air using a stream of water.
Here’s a video from BBC Earth demonstrating their impressive shooting ability:
As the video explains, the ballistic expertise of an archerfish is remarkable considering how it accounts for gravity and shifts in light from below water. Researchers Stefan Schuster and Peggy Gerullis, the authors of the Current Biology study, decided to further test the fishes’ accuracy by training them to hit targets ranging in height and distance.
What they found is that their archerfish subjects could make quick, reasoned adjustments in their shooting approaches. Their adaptive capabilities, wrote Schuster and Gerullis, compare to “the ‘uniquely human’ ability of powerful throwing.”
‘One of the last strongholds of human uniqueness is our ability to powerfully throw stones or spears at distant targets,’ Schuster says. ‘This is really an impressive capability and requires — among many fascinating aspects — precise time control of movement. It is believed that this ability has forced our brains to become bigger, housing many more neurons to afford the precision. With the many neurons around, they could be used for other tasks apart from applying them for powerful throws. It is remarkable that the same line of reasoning could also be applied to archerfish.'”
Whether this means that humans should watch out for upstart archerfish (probably not) remains to be seen. What is for sure is that these researchers will certainly keep an eye on their fishy subjects. There could be more to learn about cognitive ability and evolution from these fascinating aquatic Robin Hoods.
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