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How Fish Communicate

The aim of the article is to provide you with some material on How Fish Communicate. The visible forms of fish communication are exhibited through changing their colors and doing dance-like movements. Less visible methods of fish communication are in the form of sending out electrical impulses and releasing chemicals that can be smelled or tasted.

How Fish Communicate

Very little is known about the sound aspect of fish communication but experiments with underwater microphones indicate that fish are not quiet.

The combination of visible and invisible communication makes the interpretation of fish language very complicated.

Fish Communication by Sound

Many species of cichlids and catfish emit sounds during spawning, breeding and fighting. These sounds are not audible because they on a much higher frequency than what our ears can hear. They can be picked up by underwater microphones.

Some smaller species of fish emit a constant high-frequency sound which is used to keep schools of fish together. Some of the larger cichlid species actually growl, quack, click or squeak. Some of these noises are caused by the movement of spines against other parts of their own bodies.

Fish Communication by Coloration and Motion

Cichlids use coloration and motion as a form of communication. These fish live in pairs and use signals in order to successfully raise their brood to adulthood. The fry learn from the very start that each movement or color change in the parents has a meaning and to obey the parents without question.

Many cichlids have some form of striping. The most dominant fish display more solid and colored striping. The least dominant fish have pale colors or no stripes at all. The color patterns of each species are varied but they are still able to communicate with other fish. Fish will protect their fry against any other sized fish. They also communicate if other fish are infringing on their food supply.

Fish Communication by Smell and Taste

Little is known about how fish communicate with sound but even less is known about how fish communicate through the sense of taste and smell.

The use of scent as communication has been identified in certain members of the catfish family. In an experiment, two catfish were allowed to fight and then separated. The losing fish was placed in another aquarium for several weeks. When this fish was sprayed with water from the winning fish’s aquarium, it turned pale and hissed even though the winning fish was in a different tank.

Smell plays a role in the courting behavior of many fish species. In an experiment, cichlid males were placed in an aquarium. When water was poured into the males’ tank from a tank where females were kept during egg depositing, the males began a courting ritual.

The use of taste is detected in many species during spawning time. Fish have been seen nudging their partner’s mouths towards their genital areas.

Communication by Electrical Impulse

Fish with electrical organs can transmit or receive electrical impulses. Sometimes the electrical impulses are used for social reasons. Other times, impulses are used to warn trespassers that they are getting too close to a fish’s territory. A promising mating partner usually receives a less powerful shock.

An aquarium hobbyist can identify the visible forms of communication through careful observation. The less visible communication methods are harder to detect and are usually done through scientific experiments.

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