Published On: Mon, Sep 25th, 2017

Fish have complex personalities Too

A study revealed that Guppies have complex personalities. When placed them into an unfamiliar environment, they act in various ways for coping with this stressful situation


Fish are individuals with complex personalities even if they may not show it or we may not aware of it, new research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that tiny fish called Trinidadian guppies behaved in various situations complex differences between individuals. Modes of behavior that could not simply be explained as risk-taking or risk-averse.

The scientists tested whether differences could be measured on a “simple spectrum” of how willing or unwilling to take risks, guppies were. This study shows variations between individuals were too complicated to be described in a simple way.


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“The idea of a simple spectrum is often put forward to explain the behavior of individuals in species such as the Trinidadian guppy,” said lead author Dr. Tom Houslay. “But our research shows that the reality is much more complex. For example, when placed into an unfamiliar environment, we found guppies have various strategies for coping with this stressful situation – many

“For example, when placed into an unfamiliar environment, we found guppies have various strategies for coping with this stressful situation – many attempt to hide, others try to escape, some explore cautiously, and so on.

“The differences between them were consistent over time and in different situations. So, while the behavior of all the guppies changed depending on the situation — for example, all becoming more cautious in more stressful situations — the relative differences between individuals remained intact.”

Mild stress was caused by transferring fish individually to an unfamiliar tank, and higher levels of stress were caused by adding models of predatory birds or fish.

The presence of predators had an effect on “average” behavior — making all of the guppies more cautious overall — but individuals still retained their distinct personalities.


This is a mock-up image showing a Trinidadian guppy (the small fish), a blue acara cichlid and a model of a heron.


Professor Alastair Wilson, also from the CEC at the University of Exeter, added: “We are interested in why these various personalities exist, and the next phase of our research will look at the genetics underlying personality and associated traits.

“We want to know how personality relates to other facets of life, and to what extent this is driven by genetic — rather than environmental — influences.

“The goal is really gaining insight into evolutionary processes, how different behavioral strategies might persist as species evolve.”

The study, published in the journal Functional Ecology, examined the “coping styles” of guppies in conditions designed to cause varying levels of stress.


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