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Ethology

by TFH Magazine on April 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

By David E. Boruchowitz

Editor-in-Chief of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

The articles in our magazine often evoke an emotional response from me, but it is rarely envy. This time, however, it is. I was a student of ethology (the biological study of behavior) long before I knew what it was. In college, when I learned its name and began to study it officially, there were only a few people in the relatively new field, and one of them was a giant—Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian scientist often called the father of modern ethology. He was something of a living legend at that time, and a couple of years later he received the Nobel Prize in medicine. I was a psych major when I discovered ethology, and the contrast was blatant. While psychologists sometimes study animal behavior and ethologists often study animal behavior, they couldn’t be more different. Psychology is a clinical science, centered in the laboratory, studying elements of behavior in isolation; ethology is a hands-on, in-the-field science that observes, records, and interprets behaviors holistically.

Most aquarists are amateur ethologists. Very few of us put cichlids through mazes or train guppies in water-filled Skinner boxes, yet almost all of us observe our fish under conditions as natural as we can make them—and a considerable number go the extra mile to observe them in their native habitats. Konrad Lorenz is perhaps best known for his pioneering work on imprinting in waterfowl, and the mention of his name still brings up my memories of films of the man squat-walking across a field or swimming across a lake with a line of goslings in tow. But his contributions to the field were legion and encompassed studies of animals of all types. The foundations of observation and analysis he established are well applied in the study of fish behavior, and if you are unfamiliar with his work, you will probably enjoy his non-scholarly but very informative book King Solomon’s Ring.

So of what am I envious? In the May 2010 issue article “Color Wars: Reef Fish and Aggression,” we have an article by Valerio Zupo; someone who, with impetuousness and not a little bravado, met Lorenz and was able to discuss the riotous colors of reef fishes with him. Wow!

Posted in David E. Boruchowitz and From the Editor by TFH Magazine on April 9th, 2010 at 10:15 am.

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