It Isn't Just Your Cat That's Obsessed With Laser Pointers

An angry wrasse chases the laser doggedly. Peter Davies/Emma V Sheehan/University of Plymouth

It isn’t just your cat that’s obsessed with chasing a laser pointer. It turns out, some wild fish are also curiously love-struck with them too.

While you might struggle to know what to do with that knowledge, researchers from the University of Plymouth in the UK have got a good feeling they could exploit this behavior to learn more about marine species and their behavior. 

Marine biologists stumbled across this trait several years ago while studying the seabed around Lyme Bay in southwest England. The area became a Marine Protected Area in 2008, so they were eager to see how the seafloor had recovered in light of the ban on dredging and trawling.

To their surprise, they noticed that wild species of wrasse fish would “chase” the lasers they beamed out of the instrument used to gather data about the seafloor. Although their motivation to chase lasers is unclear, the fish appear to be warding them off and defending their territory.

“They also seem to revel in chasing lasers, a bit like some domestic cats,” study author Pete Davies, who is working towards a PhD at Bournemouth University, said in a statement.

In a new study, published in The Journal Of Applied Ichthyology, the research team headed back to Lyme Bay to take a deeper look at this chasing behavior in cuckoo wrasse (Labrus mixtus) and goldsinny wrasse (Ctenolabrus rupestris)By their accounts, the cuckoo wrasse were notably more aggressive and dogged towards the laser than the goldsinny wrasse.

The team are confident that close study of the way the fish furiously chase the lasers could be used as a method to study the wild fishes’ size, sex, and specs. Furthermore, it could be developed to investigate aspects of territoriality and aggression in marine animals. The method is also extremely low cost and low effort compared to other options.

“We have been entertained by wrasse chasing our flying array video lasers ever since we built the sled in 2008,” added study author Dr Emma Sheehan.

"However it was only in more recent years, since the live wrasse fishery has emerged in the southwest, that I had the idea that this laser chasing behavior could be used to assess territory size and inform future sustainable management of these amazing fishes.”

Perhaps, however, we shouldn't be so surprised that wrasse exhibit this behavior. After all, this is the family of fish that was able to pass the famous "mirror test," which suggests they possibly possess a sense of self-awareness.

 

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