Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 25, Issue 1–3, pp 79–86 | Cite as

Orientation behavior of butterflyfishes (family Chaetodontidae) on coral reefs: spatial learning of route specific landmarks and cognitive maps

  • Ernst S. Reese


Foraging butterflyfishes follow predictable paths as they swim from one food patch to another within their territories and home ranges. The pattern is repeated throughout the day. The behavior is described in species belonging to the coral feeding guild. Habit formation and spatial learning are implicated. Foraging paths are based on learned locations of route specific landmarks. When a coral head is removed the fish look for it in its former location. If pairs of foraging fish are deflected from the path, they resume their routine pattern at the first landmark they encounter. Periodically, fish make excursions of 30 m or more to distant parts of the reef. Usually they follow different paths on the outbound and homeward legs of these excursions. The critical question is: Are the paths novel? If they are, it is evidence for the use of cognitive maps. Certainly fishes living in the highly structured coral reef environment are prime candidates to use cognitive maps in their orientation behavior.

Key words

Reef fish Foraging Cognition Memory Habit formation Piloting 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ernst S. Reese
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Hawaii Institute of Marine BiologyUniversity of HawaiiHonoluluU.S.A.

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