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Postgrad life – Working with animals

22. May, 2011
Fish in the Faroe Islands: Stickleback (Gaster...

Image via Wikipedia

Now I do a lot of moaning (in real life) that my sticklebacks aren’t behaving the way I want them to and I can see how that might seem unscientific of me.

In some sense it probably is unscientific. I should probably investigate why they are behaving how they do and carry out some experiments to see which changes to how I treat them or how they lead their laboratory lives might change their behaviour. However, I’m really not interested at this moment in time. Maybe when I’m a grown up scientist I’ll submit a grant application to investigate all the little annoying quirks of sticklebacks.

Here are my favourite (that is, least favourite) quirks:

  1. Cowardice: Sticklebacks are really easily freaked out and take quite a while to recover. This means that trying to get them to do any other natural behaviour than predator-avoidance can be a real pain. Especially if you’re hoping to get them to do this on their own without any tank mates or hiding places to do it from.
  2. Melanic colouration: the little buggers can go almost completely black on their backs, which makes them impossible to spot in the lovely black setup you made to make them more comfortable and less scared.
  3. Schizophrenic: They will eagerly come and try to eat your fingers when they’re in their home environment even though they’ve just been fed. You can even faff about with nets and all sorts and they won’t care the least bit. If they’re in glass tanks they’ll follow your fingers along the glass. Put them in a new tank on their own and they’re scared of their own shadow. It’s like all of a sudden paranoia kicks in and everything is out to get them. Possibly even the enticing food I’ve left out for them to find.

I know that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for these behaviours and I could list some of them right now. However, that’s not the point of this post. The point is to vent my frustrations with my favourite fish in the world and share some of my postgrad life with the rest of you.

I think my advice to you all is to learn some computer modelling, only ever use domestic animals for lab work if you can help it and do field work using tried and tested methods only – that is, tried and tested by someone else.

Wish me good luck with my new sand-coloured experimental setup (take that, melanin!) and stickleback-calming strategy (not previously mentioned. It’s boring and only has to do with time).

PS. If you think you’ve spotted a hole in my sand-coloured setup plan, then yes: I know, they could just get rid of all their melanin and become sand coloured. Here’s hoping they’ll still be visible *fingers crossed*

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