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Home > Fish > Can Pet Fish Recognize Their Owners? What Research Says

Can Pet Fish Recognize Their Owners? What Research Says

young girl watching fish in a nano tank

Not everyone is up for a furry pet in their life, but you may still find yourself wanting a pet that will be interactive with you. Or, at minimum, recognize you as the person who cares for them.

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to selecting fish as long as you are up for the commitment their care requires. If you’re looking for a fish that will recognize you when it’s feeding time, though, there are some things that research has told us.


Can Pet Fish Recognize Their Owners?

If you’re a fish keeper, you’ll be pleased to know that fish absolutely can recognize humans’ faces, and a large number of them can differentiate between different faces. Many species of fish are adept at recognizing patterns and seeing the same face regularly will aid in their recognition of it.

The catch here is that not all species of fish have been shown to recognize human faces. This is partially because not all species of fish have been studied, but some popular fish have shown this capability.

fish in an aquarium
Image Credits: imsogabriel, Pixabay

Why Does It Matter?

This is a fascinating phenomenon, and for good reason. Humans are able to easily recognize faces, and you can likely even tell your fish apart by noticing subtle differences in their appearance. Dogs, cats, dolphins, apes, and other intelligent mammals have also shown the ability to recognize specific people, and some reptiles have also shown this ability.

What’s so fascinating is that there is no evolutionary purpose for a fish to be able to recognize a human face, and there is definitely no true purpose in being able to differentiate between faces. Is this something that has been bred into fish through selective breeding practices, or is this purely an evolutionary trait?

What’s even more interesting is that one study of Mexican cave fish, or Mexican cave tetras, showed that these fish were capable of recognizing when things within their environment were rearranged. Why does this matter?

Well, Mexican cave fish don’t have eyes. They have other systems and senses that allow them to determine when differences in their environment occur. This means that even fish without eyes are capable of recognizing patterns. Will your eyeless fish recognize your face? Of course not. But they may be able to differentiate you from other humans through other means.

What Types of Fish Will Recognize People?

The most popular fish in the whole fish-keeping industry, goldfish, are social and intelligent fish that are excellent at recognizing patterns and identifying people. While they are often thought of as stupid and forgetful, your goldfish will definitely remember your face, and many of them will get excited when you enter the room.

Archerfish were studied and it was determined that they were able to recognize human faces with a high level of accuracy when presented with multiple types of faces to look at. Predatory fish are highly likely to be able to recognize human faces and differentiate between them. This is likely due to predatory fish being good at recognizing patterns since this skill often helps them find food.

goldfish with telescope eyes close up
Image By: JuanCarlosPalauDiaz, Pixabay



In reality, we have no way to know just how many fish are able to recognize human faces or recognize and differentiate between human faces. There are far too many fish in the aquarium trade to feasibly perform research on all of them.

It’s a safe assumption that your fish can recognize you in some regard, though. This may be the sound of your voice, the sounds you make when entering the room, the way you smell when your hands are in the tank for water changes, or the way your face looks.

No matter how it is that fish are able to recognize humans, it shows us that they are more intelligent than often thought to be, and it’s still a mystery why fish would develop this skill.

Featured Image Credit: Dikushin Dmitry, Shutterstock

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