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Fishy Friendship: Do Fish Recognize Owners?

Since we spend so much time upkeeping our home aquariums and looking after our fish, it is only natural to wonder if they actually recognize us. Do fish actually recognize their owner’s faces or do they only know when it’s feeding time?

Quick Answer

Yes, fish do in fact recognize their owners. Science has shown that fish will recognize their owners’ faces even if multiple people are standing near the tank. Fish will also develop the awareness that when they see their owner they will most likely be fed, or maintenance will be done to the tank.

With that being said, different species of fish are more likely to recognize their owners over others. Keep reading to learn if your fish makes the list and if it is possible to bond with your fish.

Do all fish recognize their owners?

There are definitely some fish that can distinctly recognize their owners, even with more than one person standing around the tank.

For other species, they may recognize a person that is about to feed them for example, but they may not be able to distinguish between faces.

However, scientists have been studying the pattern recognition abilities of fish. They have actually determined that fish can actually be trained to recognize a certain human!

Even though some fish may not distinguish your face from another they do develop an association with things they like or happen, like feeding or tank maintenance.

Small Fish

It goes without saying that the smaller fish, the smaller the brain.

This means they are not as intelligent as their larger counterparts but some species are still able to recognize their owners. Betta fish are prime examples of this.

Bettas are known to recognize and even bond with their owners. A few other species that can do this are goldfish, angelfish, and cichlids. 

Large Fish

Some of the more intelligent species with larger-sized brains, Elephant-Nose Fish, for example, can actually use their jaws to sense buried prey in the river beds.

They are able to sense what they can see because they are slightly electric, and use that to sense muscular contractions in their prey.

The elephant nose fish has the largest brain-to-body ratio in the animal kingdom!

They are known to recognize certain places, and vibrations, and can recognize other fish that they have encountered. 

Fish Intelligence 

For a long time, people thought that fish were creatures that just swam around. They were perceived to be unfeeling and incapable of memories, emotions, or pain.

However, more recently it has been discovered that fish are actually more intelligent than people originally thought. 

They can recognize members of their own fish group, sometimes even their owners. Surprisingly some fish can even remember where they were last attacked, learn how to escape, and even count!

Fish do indeed have advanced cognitive functions that some have even correlated with non-human primates.

They do have long-term memories and can keep track of social relationships amongst their schools and more. 

Looking for more information on aquarium fish?

In that case, make sure to check out our aquatic fish page. There you’ll find everything you need to know about aquarium fish, shrimp & snails.

How to Bond with Your Fish 

Bonding with your fish is essential to them being able to recognize you and your presence. There are a few ways to increase this bond if you put the time in!

These tend to be especially true for a betta fish (siamese-fighting fish).

The first and easiest way to bond with your fish is to feed them on a regular and consistent schedule.

If fed regularly, you will notice that the fish will come to the surface before even putting the food in the tank. This solidifies the bond between you, your fish, and feeding time.

You can also play games with your fish. It may sound odd, but some fish love to follow your finger on the tank of the glass. They will “chase” your finger and you are overall giving them something to be interested in other than the tank.

Betta fish also like to play with ping pong balls! Of course, they need to be small ping-pong balls but they love to chase them at the top of the tank. You can also make rings to put in the tank with pipe cleaners. 

You can actually train your fish to go through the rings with small pieces of food. This will keep them entertained and will knit the bond between you and your fish.