The Compassionate Cichlid: A Fish That Cares

The Compassionate Cichlid: A Fish That Cares


When we think about fish, we usually picture small creatures that swim silently in their tanks or in the depths of the sea. Fish are often seen as simple creatures, without complex emotions or behaviors. However, researchers have discovered that some species have humanlike qualities that may surprise us. In this article, we will explore the world of cichlids, a type of fish that exhibits benevolent behavior and compassion.

The Humanlike Qualities of Cichlids: A Surprising Discovery

Cichlids are freshwater fish that are native to Africa, Central and South America. They come in various sizes and colors and are known for their aggressive behavior, especially during breeding and territorial disputes. However, recent studies have revealed that cichlids can also display empathy, altruism, and even mourning. For example, in one experiment, cichlids were observed helping their injured companions by cleaning their wounds and pushing them towards the surface to facilitate breathing. This behavior resembles the way human caregivers assist their sick or injured loved ones. Moreover, cichlids have been shown to practice reciprocal altruism, a behavior that involves helping others even when there is no immediate benefit. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Bern, Switzerland, cichlids were trained to recognize a predator and avoid it. When two cichlids were placed in a tank, and one of them signaled danger, the other one would follow its example and swim away. However, when the same signal was given with no predator present, the fish did not react. This shows that cichlids are capable of understanding the intentions of their peers and responding accordingly, indicating a level of social intelligence that was once thought to be unique to primates.

Benevolent Behavior Among Fish: Meet the Compassionate Cichlid

Cichlids are not only empathetic and altruistic, but they have also been observed mourning their dead. In one experiment, researchers placed a dead cichlid in a tank with its mate and monitored its behavior. The living cichlid hovered near the corpse, often touching it with its fins, and attempting to feed it, even though it was non-responsive. This behavior persisted for several days, and the cichlid became visibly distraught before eventually moving on. The study suggests that cichlids can form emotional bonds with their mates and experience grief. The benevolent behavior of cichlids challenges our perception of fish and highlights the complex social dynamics that exist beneath the surface. These findings have important implications for the way we view animal cognition and the ways in which we treat animals. As we learn more about the emotional lives of animals, we are reminded of our responsibility to protect and respect all beings, regardless of their size or shape.


The study of cichlids has shed light on the compassionate nature of animals and has challenged our assumptions about what is possible in the animal kingdom. As the evidence mounts, it is clear that many creatures exhibit behavior that we once thought was exclusively human. By recognizing the emotional and social complexity of animals, we can cultivate a deeper sense of empathy and respect for all living beings. The compassionate cichlid is a reminder that there is much we still have to learn about the natural world, and that compassion can exist in unexpected places.

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