Senses of Fishes
Fishes cannot shut their eyes, having no true lids; but the eyes themselves are very well developed and the vision is acute, especially for moving objects. Except in gristly fishes, the external opening to the ear has been lost, so that sound-waves and coarser vibrations must influence the inner ear, which is well developed, through the surrounding flesh and bones. It seems that the main use of the ear in fishes is in connection with balancing, not with hearing. In many cases, however, the sense of hearing has been demonstrated; thus fishes will come to the side of a pond to be fed when a bell is rung or when a whistle is blown by someone not visible from the water. The fact that many fishes pay no attention at all to loud noises does not prove that they are deaf, for an animal may hear a sound and yet remain quite indifferent or irresponsive. This merely means that the sound has no vital interest for the animal. Some fishes, such as bullhead and dogfish, have a true sense of smell, detecting by their nostrils very dilute substances permeating the water from a distance. Others, such as members of the cod family, perceive their food in part at least by the sense of taste, which is susceptible to substances near at hand and present in considerable quantity. This sense of taste may be located on the fins as well as about the mouth. At this low level the senses of smell and taste do not seem to be very readily separated. The chief use of the sensitive line or lateral line seen on each side of a bony fish is to make the animal aware of slow vibrations and changes of pressure in the water. The skin responds to pressures, the ear to vibrations of high frequency; the lateral line is between the two in its function.
Interesting Ways of Fishes
The brain of the ordinary bony fish is at a very low level. Thus the cerebral hemispheres, destined to become more and more the seat of intelligence, are poorly developed. In gristly fishes, like skates and sharks, the brain is much more promising. But although the state of the brain does not lead one to expect very much from a bony fish like trout or eel, haddock or herring, illustrations are not wanting of what might be called pretty pieces of behaviour. Let us select a few cases.
The Stickleback's Nest
The three-spined and two-spined sticklebacks live equally well in fresh or salt water; the larger fifteen-spined stickleback is entirely marine. In all three species the male fish makes a nest, in fresh or brackish water in the first two cases, in shore-pools in the third case. The little species use the leaves and stems of water-plants; the larger species use seaweed and zoophyte. The leaves or fronds are entangled together and fastened by glue-like threads, secreted, strange to say, by the kidneys. It is just as if a temporary diseased condition had been regularised and turned to good purpose. Going through the nest several times, the male makes a little room in the middle. Partly by coercion and partly by coaxing he induces a female—first one and then another—to pass through the nest with two doors, depositing eggs during her short sojourn. The females go their way, and the male mounts guard over the nest. He drives off intruding fishes much bigger than himself. When the young are hatched, the male has for a time much to do, keeping his charges within bounds until they are able to move about with agility. It seems that sticklebacks are short-lived fishes, probably breeding only once; and it is reasonable to suppose that their success as a race depends to some extent on the paternal care. Now if we could believe that the nesting behaviour had appeared suddenly in its present form, we should be inclined to credit the fish with considerable mental ability. But we are less likely to be so generous if we reflect that the routine has been in all likelihood the outcome of a long racial process of slight improvements and critical testings. The secretion of the glue probably came about as a pathological variation; its utilisation was perhaps discovered by accident; the types that had wit enough to take advantage of this were most successful; the routine became enregistered hereditarily. The stickleback is not so clever as it looks.