First domesticated during the Chinese Sun Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago, thanks to selective breeding, there are now more than a 100 types of goldfish. Though some people claim goldfish aren’t the brightest bulbs in the tank, researchers are making discoveries that may blow this theory out of the water.

A study conducted by Jonathan Lovell at Plymouth University found that some fish can be successfully trained to swim toward a particular sound. To test his theory, Lovell plans to release domesticated “trained” fish into the sea and call them to a special feeding station by playing a sound the fish have learned to associate with food.

At the University of Edinburgh, Cullum Brown studied two groups of fish: those who knew their tank well and those who had just been introduced to the tank.

Brown placed a net with a central hole into the tank, sweeping it from side to side. Fish that were familiar with the tank were able to more easily escape through the hole in the net.

Brown hypothesizes that the “familiar fish” understood their tank and didn’t view it as a threat. This allowed them to focus on the newly introduced threat — the net — and more easily and quickly find a way to escape it.

Amazingly, when Brown conducted the same experiment with the fish 11 months later, the familiar fish remembered the net so well that they were able to easily escape again.

While 11 months may not seem like a long period of time, it is nearly one-third the life span of Brown’s fish participants. That would be like a human remembering how to perform a task they had completed only once — 25 years later!

Many owners claim their goldfish have learned to recognize their faces and will swim to the edge of the tank when they see them approaching. Some even claim their goldfish have learned how to “beg” for food and will hover at the surface of the tank when people walk into the room.

If this is true, the goldfish have mastered “associative learning” by recognizing that when humans show up, sometimes food does too. This is the same principle Ivan Pavlov explored in his famous experiment when he trained dogs to associate the sound of a ringing bell with the arrival of food.


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    • Wow! That must be an awesome sight to see, Dakota! You are lucky to have such an acrobatic goldfish! Thanks for commenting today! :-)

    • Great question, Wonder Friend Kathy! If you had a goldfish, you might feed him or her flaky red food– it’s fish food! It’s special for fish to keep them nice and healthy! We bet you can do some research to find out what is in it! :)

  1. We are wondering where goldfish live in the wild. We liked watching the fish go through the hoops. We didn’t know that a goldfish could do that. We also liked how the fish was kicking the soccer ball. The video was really cute.

  2. This is really neat! I just bought two 38 cent comet goldfish yesterday. Who know such a cheap fish, or a fish in general, could be so smart! I think I’m going to try teaching at least one of mine to jump through a hoop! :)

    • Hey Lexi! That sounds like a lot of fun! Let us know how the goldfish training goes! We’d love to see it perform! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  3. I have two fish, so I did a little experiment of myself. I put two bouncy balls into the tank. These fish have been in my tank for three years now so at first they got to it and examined it. Then they started touching it and then they started pushing it and then they started to play around. Another thing I did is that I made like a suction cup thingy I trained to push it by using my hands then I did not feed the fish anything. In the suction there is food. So, I think they got hungry and they pressed the button. Then fish food came out and they ate it. Then they got curious and they pressed it again. But then they started pressing it a lot of time and I removed it. They started staring at me as I removed it because they wanted the suction thing and even though I drooped food they didn’t eat it and they thought the filter tube is the suction thing!!! and they kept on nibbling at it. Then they realized that there was no suction cup and they once again started eating the one I gave.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you teach a goldfish to play soccer?
  • How do domesticated fish learn?
  • Do goldfish make good painting subjects?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

French artist Henri Matisse was famous for depicting favorite objects from everyday life in his works. Closer inspection of his paintings reveals all sorts of treasured tidbits — from books to seashells, a Chinese vase and, yes, even goldfish.

Grab your little one and head over to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s website, which features the Matisse for Kids Online Activity.

Visit Henri’s house where his beloved schnauzer Raoudi is eager to give you a tour of Matisse’s world and work. When you have bid Raoudi and Henri “adieu,” it’s time for your budding artist to let the creativity flow.

Then, try taking some inspiration from Matisse and create your own version of his 1912 painting Goldfish. Have your child think about some of their favorite objects to include in the surrounding scenery. Perhaps a special toy? A soccer ball? Or maybe even a cherished family pet curled up beside the table?


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