Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 717–724 | Cite as

Olfactory self-recognition in a cichlid fish

  • Timo ThünkenEmail author
  • Nadine Waltschyk
  • Theo C. M. Bakker
  • Harald Kullmann
Original Paper


Animal self-cognizance might be of importance in different contexts like territoriality, self-referent mate-choice or kin recognition. We investigated whether the cichlid fish Pelvicachromis taeniatus is able to recognize own olfactory cues. P. taeniatus is a cave breeding fish with pronounced brood care and social behavior. In the experiments we gave male cave owners the choice between two caves in which we introduced scented water. In a first experiment males preferred caves with their own odor over caves with the odor of an unfamiliar, unrelated male. To examine whether self-recognition is based rather on individual or on family cues we conducted two further experiments in which males could choose between their own odor and the odor of a familiar brother and between the odor of a familiar brother and an unfamiliar, unrelated male, respectively. Males preferred their own odor over that of a familiar brother suggesting individual self-referencing. Interestingly, males (at least outbred ones) preferred the odor of an unfamiliar, unrelated male over that of a familiar brother, maybe to avoid competition with kin. We discuss the results in the context of animal self-cognizance. All experiments were conducted with in- and outbred fish. Inbreeding did not negatively affect self-recognition.


Pelvicachromis taeniatus Self-reference Phenotype matching Chemical communication Cichlidae Kin discrimination Kin selection Competition Individual recognition Odor Inclusive fitness 



We thank J. Frommen, M. Mehlis, R. Modarressie, I. Rick for discussion and L. Engqvist and T. Schmoll for statistical advice. We thank A. Beike and S. Maurer for assisting in some experiments. S. Baldauf, J. Frommen and C. Seibt gave useful comments on the manuscript. M. Hiermes is acknowledged for improving our English. This research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (BA 2885/2-2). The study conforms to the legal requirements of Germany.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timo Thünken
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nadine Waltschyk
    • 1
  • Theo C. M. Bakker
    • 1
  • Harald Kullmann
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Evolutionary Biology and EcologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  2. 2.Zentrum für Didaktik der BiologieUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany

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