Have you ever walked past your tank and seen your fish react or swim up to the glass when you come near? I know mine do and I have often wondered: Can fish love their owners?
Over the past 30 years, wow has it really been 30 years now since I started keeping tropical fish? That flew by quickly. I have definitely seen some fish that show signs that they know I’m there and are aware that I feed and take care of them.
I’m sure they know how much I love them from the amount of time I spend peering through the glass and smiling.
But do they feel the same?
Many people feel that fish have no emotions and therefore cannot love their owners in the same way humans do. Some fish do show aggression to their owners, that I know for sure. So, if they show aggression then they must be able to show love? The answer is not clear and will be debated for many years to come.
What Emotions do Fish Show?
I once owned a Porcupine Saltwater puffer (Diodon holocanthus – if you like to call fish by their Latin names). He had more personality than any other fish I have ever known.
I can 100% tell you he had happy days and sad days and he wasn’t afraid to show you. It was an open-top, 8-foot saltwater aquarium and he would come to the top of the tank and spit water out of the aquarium to attract your attention.
This was when he was in a playful mood, when he was angry, he would spit coral sand out of the aquarium onto the floor.
Also, when I fed him his favorite food which was frozen cockles, he would almost smile. I could see it in his face.
Okay, you can call me mad and I wouldn’t blame you but it’s true.
Fish also express their emotions when sick or not feeling great, just like humans do, by slowing down and laying still or swimming less.
Tests Have Proven Fish Have Emotions
Many tests have been carried out by scientists, to learn and discover if fish have emotions and if can they be altered and affected by conditions, foods and other factors; similar to what affects humans.
A Portuguese biologist trained sea bream under both favorable and adverse conditions; these conditions were expected to trigger an emotional state. They then analyzed this emotional response by measuring the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and seeing what brain areas become activated.
Researchers also tracked fish interaction and overall behavior to assess their response and then back trace it to emotional states.
The study was not only able to confirm that fish do have emotions but also that they have developed more sensitive emotions over thousands of decades and they haven’t stopped developing yet.
You can read the scientific paper here.
Love is the Strongest Emotion
We all know love is the strongest emotion and can cause use it to do good and bad things. Well, if fish have emotions then they must feel love.
Love for their tank mates, love for their companions and possible love for their owners.
This would make a lot of sense. I have witnesses fish kill each other, kill or attack others that come close to their young (a strong emotion to protect), and strike out at others for no apparent reason.
We don’t know what has caused this but you know for sure something or some fish has touched a nerve and that has caused an emotional reaction.
I have seen a 2-inch Blue Damsel protect its partner from a 12 Inch triggerfish and succeed. This was in love for its partner and in defense of its home or personal space.
Again, a true sign of love.
So, In Conclusion – Can Fish Love Their Owners?
I’m not going to sit on the fence here and say… Yes
I think each fish is individual and has maybe a more advanced or bigger brain, which allows it to show more emotion and maybe more capable of loving its owner than others.
I mean, I have never been greeted with a big smile from a Neon Tetra!
I can list probably 5 fish over the past 30 years that I would bet my mortgage on that loved me.
- 10 Inch Male Frontosa Cichlid
- 13 Inch Tiger Oscar
- Porcupine puffer
- Large Bubble Eye Goldfish (My first fish)
- 18 Inch Pacu
All these showed a lot of affection towards me. We had fun at feeding times, they had moody days and also became over protective over their young towards others and even myself.
One thing I know for sure…. We all get very irrational when in love and do some silly things. So, at the end of the day, can fish love their owners? I’m sure they can.
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