Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 779–785 | Cite as

Innovative behaviour in fish: Atlantic cod can learn to use an external tag to manipulate a self-feeder

  • Sandie MillotEmail author
  • Jonatan Nilsson
  • Jan Erik Fosseidengen
  • Marie-Laure Bégout
  • Anders Fernö
  • Victoria A. Braithwaite
  • Tore S. Kristiansen
Original Paper


This study describes how three individual fish, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua L.), developed a novel behaviour and learnt to use a dorsally attached external tag to activate a self-feeder. This behaviour was repeated up to several hundred times, and over time these fish fine-tuned the behaviour and made a series of goal-directed coordinated movements needed to attach the feeder’s pull string to the tag and stretch the string until the feeder was activated. These observations demonstrate a capacity in cod to develop a novel behaviour utilizing an attached tag as a tool to achieve a goal. This may be seen as one of the very few observed examples of innovation and tool use in fish.


Innovation Learning Cognitive ability Tool use Atlantic cod Food acquisition 



This study has been carried out with financial support from Institute of Marine Research, Norway, Research Council of Norway, and the Commission of the European Communities, through Cost Action 867, Short Term Scientific Mission allocated to S.M. We would like to thank Stein Mortensen for the drawings in Fig. 1. We are grateful to two anonymous referees and to editor for their valuable comments.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

The work was conducted in accordance with the laws and regulations controlling experiments and procedures on live animals in Norway following the Norwegian Regulation on Animal Experimentation 1996.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MPG 4044 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandie Millot
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonatan Nilsson
    • 2
  • Jan Erik Fosseidengen
    • 2
  • Marie-Laure Bégout
    • 1
  • Anders Fernö
    • 3
  • Victoria A. Braithwaite
    • 4
  • Tore S. Kristiansen
    • 2
  1. 1.IfremerL’HoumeauFrance
  2. 2.Institute of Marine ResearchBergenNorway
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  4. 4.Department of Ecosystem Science and ManagementThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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