Music discriminations by carp (Cyprinus carpio)

“Prior to this series of experiments, the prevailing opinion appeared to be skepticism as to whether koi could discriminate one piece of music from another under any circumstances. Now it appears that these animals can discriminate polyphonic music, discriminate melodic patterns, and even classify music by artistic genre.”

Koi (Cyprinus carpio), which are members of the carp family and close relatives of the goldfish, are not known to communicate using sound – but maybe they can discriminate different types of (human) music? To find out Professor Ava Chase of the Fish Laboratory at the Rowland Institute for Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, set up a suite of experiments. The one pictured below shows ‘Beauty’* and ‘Oro’ the koi listening to a MIDI-based rendition of Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin, (perhaps best known from Rachmaninoff ’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini’.)


“The data show that without timbre cues, Oro clearly discriminated between the two melodies [in each stimulus condition (i.e., second-generation S- , first-note-removed, and both-ends-clipped), 5 final sessions, t(4) > 10, p < .001].”

*Note: Unfortunately, “Beauty’s performance inexplicably deteriorated to the point where he had to be dropped as a subject.” – that’s to say he no longer took part.

Two videos of the experiment (with the theme played both forwards and backwards) are available here in [.mpg] format (note: music starts at around 15 seconds in)

REFERENCE: Animal Learning & Behavior, 2001, 29 (4), 336-353 ‘Music discriminations by carp (Cyprinus carpio)’

ALSO SEE: ‘Goldfish no golder when fed tomatoes’

BONUS: ‘How to invest and make money from Koi carp’ (from