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TL;DR: the purpose of this thread is to propose ways of enriching aquarium residents' life, and if it may have beneficial effects for both the aquarist and the resident.

So I pop in and look around in the animal training world sometimes, because I still can't shake a childhood dream of wanting to work with cetaceans ala SeaWorld trainers. One of the big things when it comes to marine mammals, and really most carnivorous (and some non-carnivorous) megafauna is the need to keep them stimulated (aka enrichment). Usually this is done by creating environments where the animal would engage in natural behavior, such as building a fake anthill for a giant anteater. Food (such as kong toys filled with peanut butter for dogs, or introducing live crickets to archerfish) as well as play/training (like those feathery cat toys, or teaching a dog to sit) are also ways to enrich an animal's life. The point, is to get the animal to use its brain. With a majority of aquarium fish, enrichment comes in the form of live foods (crickets for archerfish, live brine shrimp for larger fish, and baby brine shrimp for the smaller ones).

However, something we normally don't talk about, is enrichment in the aquarium. Quite frankly, enrichment doesn't really matter for a large majority of aquarium residents. Introducing live foods (such as brine shrimp) will certainly change up a clownfish' behavior, but by and large, it's not going to matter as much to it if you provide it frozen vs live. However, there are a few families of fish that I believe can, and possibly should, be given enrichment in the aquarium. More specifically, problem-solving species, such as octopodes and triggerfish.

The majority of us have at least seen octopodes cracking open shells, untwisting jars, and various other acts on par with at least a human toddler (tool use, play behavior, etc.). However, as absolutely intelligent as cephalopods are, we often neglect their vertebral cousins, the fish. Take, for example, the triggerfish family. Members of the family have been observed almost beaching themselves in order to hunt crabs, in addition to solving basic (food-motivated) problems. Similarly, orca whales, and dolphins perform similar attempts in order to feed on pinnipeds and fish, respectively.

Anybody who has done web searches on triggerfish knows that there is a phenomena where triggerfish can randomly "break" or go on psychotic rampages throughout the tank. The common preventative solution is to keep the fish in larger tanks, with more aggressive tankmates. However, what causes this break? I theorize that predatory problem solving fish, get bored. And bored animals have the capacity to engage in self destructive or harmful behaviors (cats scratching the couch, dogs gnawing on their legs, etc.). Currently, I have no systems to test this hypothesis (and the ethics of purposefully keeping a fish bored in order to induce a psychotic break is...iffy at best).

However, this leads to a suggestion: does enriching a fish' life help prevent destructive behaviors? Could adding toys to a triggerfish' tank help prevent it from going ballistic?

What follows is a list of basic ideas that could be used. I invite everybody to expand upon this idea.
  • Live food enrichment: As previously mentioned, food is a good motivator. Introduction of live food (fiddler crabs for larger carnivores such as triggers and octopodes), or construction of an area where a fish can engage in natural hunting behaviors (such as a cricket area for archerfish), may prove useful.
  • Food-based puzzles: Simple binary puzzles up to multi-step puzzles, such as those used with testing corvid intelligence may also prove stimulating.


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I've had the thought that it seemed like adult Banggais are much more active and "normal" seeming when they have a mate. And I've seen them seem downright depressed when a mate is removed. Not coming out as much/just staring into the corner of the tank etc. Whenever I can provide a mate or symbiont (pistol shrimps for gobies) I do as I think this helps enrich their lives.

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