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Fish are more like humans than you might think

FishDO fish really forget after a few seconds ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff

It’s difficult to imagine being a fish, but there are many things – some quite surprising – that we have in common.

Matt Parker – a senior lecturer in neuroscience and psychopharmacology at the University of Portsmouth – takes a look at just some of the ways that fish are like us.

You’ve probably heard that fish have a three-second memory, or that they’re incapable of feeling pain. Neither of these statements is true, but it’s telling that these misconceptions don’t crop up for other vertebrates.

Perhaps it’s because fish appear so different from us. They don’t seem to have any capacity for facial expression, or vocal communication – and we don’t even breathe the same air. Collectively, these differences put fish so far away from humans that we struggle to relate to them.

But when scientists have conducted experiments to discover more about fish – including their neurobiology, their social lives and mental faculties – they’ve found time and time again that fish are more complex than they’re often given credit for. Above all, fish seem to have more in common with us than we might like to admit.

In my research I often work with zebrafish – the aquatic lab rat. Here are five fascinating things that I, and other researchers, have discovered about them and their kind.

1. Fish lose their memory as they age

As humans age, our memories decline. Scientists work to understand the biology of cognitive decline in order to predict how we can help people age better and develop treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

In humans, working memory – the mental process that we use to carry out everyday tasks – declines as we get older. My colleagues and I found something similar when we observed zebrafish at six and 24 months of age swimming around in a Y-shaped maze.

We found that the older fish struggled to navigate the maze compared to younger ones. What’s more, when we designed a virtual version of the task for humans, we found that people in their 70s showed exactly the same deficits as fish.

2. Fish like the same drugs as humans

I mean, they really like them. Biologists Tristan Darland and John Dowling at Harvard University in the US found that zebrafish particularly like cocaine, which they tested by dangling the drug in their tank when the fish hung around a certain visual pattern. This preference for cocaine was heritable too. Offspring of fish with a penchant for the drug passed it on to their children – a pattern reported in humans.

Zebrafish also show patterns of compulsive drug-seeking seen in people suffering with addiction. Caroline Brennan’s research group at Queen Mary University of London found that fish would put up with being chased with a net if it meant gaining access to cocaine.

Working with Brennan’s group and Pfizer, we tested a range of other drugs – opiates, stimulants, alcohol and nicotine – to see what zebrafish can tell us about the abuse potential of new drugs (something that has to happen before they’re licensed). It turned out they loved them all.

Except, that is, THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It seems zebrafish wouldn’t make great hippies.

3. Fish remember their friends

You probably already know that fish are social animals. They can synchronise their behaviour in schools so that each individual mirrors the movements of their neighbour and the group appears to move as one.

What you probably didn’t know is that individual fish can also recognise another fish from their own group (by smell, typically). Young fish prefer their own relatives, but as they get older, adult females prefer familiar females but unfamiliar males. This ultimately helps to prevent inbreeding.

Fish retain this memory for 24 hours, preferring to approach a new fish rather than the last one they spent time with. This shows that their social memories are strong, blowing the whole “three-second memory” rumour out of the water.

4. Fish feel pain

They really do. In 2003, biologists Victoria Braithwaite and Lynne Sneddon, then at the University of Edinburgh and the Roslin institute, put acid in the lips of trout. The fish showed classic pain responses – moving away, rubbing their lips on the bottom of the tank, increasing their respiration – which disappeared completely once the fish were given a painkiller.

The question remains though, how do fish experience pain? What does pain mean to the animal? Pain is not just the perception of a physical event, such as stubbing your toe. It is often an emotional experience too. Some researchers think fish don’t experience pain in this way, essentially arguing that although they feel pain, they aren’t mentally capable of having an emotional response to that pain, and so their suffering should concern us less. This is because, they argue, fish lack parts of the brain that, in humans and other higher vertebrates, are associated with the mental experience of pain.

But this argument is no longer so convincing. Decades of work show that all manner of shapes, sizes and organisations of brain exist in nature, and that many complex behaviours arise in animals lacking the apparent brain structures that have been linked, in humans and other primates, to these higher processes.

In fact, it seems that brain structures themselves may be less important than we thought, so fish could have a more sophisticated experience of the world than we imagine, albeit using a brain that’s quite different to ours.

5. Fish can be impatient

In my lab, we’re interested in something called impulse control. This is someone’s ability to plan their behaviour and wait for the best time to perform it. Poor impulse control is a trait seen in people with a range of psychiatric conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, addiction, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

We trained zebrafish over several weeks in a series of trials using a purpose-built tank. In each trial, fish had to wait for a light to come on at the opposite end of the tank before they could swim into a chamber to get food. If they swam in early, they were disappointed with no food, and had to start all over again. We saw huge variation in their ability or desire to wait. Some fish were very impatient, while others didn’t mind waiting. We even found that a drug used to treat ADHD also makes fish less impatient.

So, perhaps next time you see a fish you’ll think twice before dismissing it as a waterborne automaton, fit only for tartare sauce and mushy peas.

Matt Parker, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology, University of Portsmouth

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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The Paranormal Side of the Bigfoot Mystery

Nick Redfern

ON more than a few occasions, I have noted the undeniable fact that many people within the Bigfoot research arena will simply not address the theory that the creatures is far more than a mere unknown animal, and may possibly possess distinct, supernatural qualities. That is, aside from predictably attacking the theory. Now, I have no problem – at all – with someone concluding that the high-strangeness angle of Bigfoot has no validity if they actually do the research to prove their point. But, time and again, I come across researchers of the monstrous mystery who openly admit to refusing to even look at such cases, read books on the weirder side of Bigfoot, or engage the witnesses in debate. The reason? Their minds are already made up. And that’s something I do have a problem with. Unfortunately, a mind already made up (without even a single corpse or a living specimen available to support the flesh and blood angle, I might add!) is something else too. Actually, it amounts to two things: biased and closed. Too bad. Like it or not, there are far more than a few reports out there that strongly suggest Bigfoot is not just an unknown primate that skillfully avoids capture, shooting, or killing with a one hundred percent success rate, one hundred percent of the time. With that said, let’s have a look at some of the weirder aspects of the Bigfoot enigma.

On the night of November 28, 2014, on the hugely popular radio show, Coast to Coast, author and Sasquatch expert Stan Gordon spoke about his Bigfoot research and writing. Gordon’s Bigfoot studies demonstrate a connection between the strange beasts and multiple, weird phenomena – including matters of a psychic nature and also UFOs. One of the issues that Gordon discussed on the show was Bigfoot’s seeming ability to remain unaffected when blasted with bullets. This was made clear in the summary of Gordon’s interview, which appeared at the Coast to Coast website the very next day: “[Gordon] explained that, in October of 1973, witnesses spotted a slow-moving, bright red UFO apparently land in the pasture of a farm…Suddenly, they noticed two Bigfoot creeping along a barbed wire fence about 75-feet away from the UFO and making those strange sounds.” One of the men “…then tried shooting the Bigfoot with live ammunition, but the bullets had no effect and the creatures wandered off into the woods.” This was not a one-off event, however: it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

FootPhilip Rife, Bigfoot investigator, says: “In 1959, a policeman had a scary encounter with a Bigfoot on a rural road in Carroll County. The officer watched in amazement as the creature crossed directly in front of his patrol car and stepped effortlessly over a barbed wire fence…The policeman then withdrew his service revolver and fired at the Bigfoot. When the bullets appeared to have no effect, the officer sprinted to his car and sped from the scene.” Moving on, a perfect example has been recorded by Jack Lapseritis, author of The Psychic Sasquatch. He tells the story of a group of people that had an amazing encounter with a Bigfoot. The story came from a Mrs. Jeffery, and whose story Lapseritis summarizes as follows: “After returning from a long hike, the group was stunned when a nine-to-ten foot Sasquatch stepped out in front of them a short distance away. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the Bigfoot completely disappeared in front of the witnesses! The witnesses insisted that it literally dematerialized! Mrs. Jeffrey reported that she was so awed at what she saw, that when they returned home, she did not leave the house for two weeks. The woman was in such a total state of shock that she did not return to the area for some time.”

RonanAuthor Ronan Coghlan said to me: “Quite a large number of Bigfoot-type creatures have been seen in the vicinity of UFOs. I’m not saying there’s necessarily a connection between the two, but they do – quite often – turn up in the same areas. Now, if UFOs travel by wormholes, and if Bigfoot does the same, that might allow for a connection between the two. They might not be mutually exclusive. If there are any of these worm-holes on Earth, it would be quite easy for anything to come through, and it’s quite possible any number of anomalous creatures could find their way through from time to time. You remember John Keel and his window-areas? That would tend to indicate there’s a worm-hole in the vicinity; such as Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where the Mothman was seen. I have the distinct suspicion we are dealing with window-areas that either contact some other planet, or they contact another universe. My money is on the other universe, rather than the other planet, to be honest with you. Either a short-cut through time, or a short-cut through space, is recognized as possible these days. This is kind of cutting-edge physics, as it were. Now, the other one isn’t cutting-edge physics at all. It’s my own little theory. I think, looking at a great many legends, folk-tales, and things of that nature, it is possible to vibrate at different rates. And if you vibrate at a different rate, you are not seen. You are not tangible. And, then, when your vibration changes, you are seen, and you are tangible; maybe that this has something to do with Bigfoot appearing and disappearing in a strange fashion.” MU

Snake emerges from toilet, bites man on behind

Snake
Image Credit: Facebook / Balai Bomba Dan Penyelamat Iskandar Puteri

An unfortunate man in Malaysia got a rather rude awakening when he got up to use the bathroom recently.

The unfortunate incident, which happened at a house in the outskirts of Iskandar Puteri, saw a snake measuring a whopping 10ft in length emerge from the u-bend of a regular household toilet.

After discovering that it had set up home in the bowl, the house’s occupants called up the fire brigade who arrived with special equipment to help remove the intruder.

“The python was successfully caught using a snake pole and has since been released from the housing area,” said fire chief Khairi Zainudin.

“Snakes usually come out during this hot season to spot for cool and wet spots.”

If you do happen to live in Malaysia, checking the toilet before sitting down would be advised.

unexplained-mysteries.com

Young Boy Digging For Worms Uncovers Ancient Fossil

Jocelyne LeBlanc

A 6-year-old boy was out in his yard in Walsall, England, digging for worms when he instead found a very ancient fossil. Siddak Singh Jhamat, whose nickname is Sid, was outside in his family’s garden using a fossil-hunting kit that he received for Christmas and his gift certainly paid off with his new discovery.

After making the discovery, Sid showed the fossil to his father who was then able to identify it as being a horn coral based on information he gathered from a fossil group on Facebook. Using the information he found, he estimates that the fossil dates back between 251 and 488 million years ago during the Paleozoic Era.

The young boy, who said he was “really excited” with his discovery, described what he found: “I was just digging for worms and things like pottery and bricks and I just came across this rock which looked a bit like a horn, and thought it could be a tooth or a claw or a horn, but it was actually a piece of coral which is called horn coral.”

Sid
Sid found the ancient fossil while digging for worms in the garden.

Based on the markings on the fossil, it is probably a Rugosa coral. They are wrinkled in appearance and shaped like a bull’s horn. They were part of a coral animal or polyp that lived at the top of the cone which was built from the ocean’s calcium carbonate. As the creatures grew, additional material was added to the cone with each layer being a bit larger than the last one.

Vish Singh, who is the boy’s father, said that his son made additional discoveries after finding the coral, “We were surprised he found something so odd-shaped in the soil… he found a horn coral, and some smaller pieces next to it, then the next day he went digging again and found a congealed block of sand.” “In that there were loads of little mollusks and sea shells, and something called a crinoid, which is like a tentacle of a squid, so it’s quite a prehistoric thing.”

Rugosa
Rugosa coral (not the one that Sid found)

He went on to note that the area in which they live isn’t well known for fossil discoveries, although they do have a significant amount of natural clay in their garden where his son made the findings. He finished off by stating, “They say you can find fossils anywhere if you look carefully enough, but to find a significantly large piece like that is quite unique.”

Their plan now is to contact Birmingham University’s Museum of Geology and inform them about Sid’s incredible discovery. Pictures of the fossil can be seen here.

Walsall boy, 6, finds ‘488-million-year-old’ fossil in garden

The schoolboy was “digging for worms” when he came across the fossil, which dates back millions of years.