Why are fish so smart? Because they swim in schools! Ha! That’s an oldie but a goodie, right?

Even though school’s out for the summer, most fish are still swimming in schools wherever they may be. Let’s take a closer look at why most fish tend to stick together.

When fish stay together for social reasons, biologists say they are “shoaling.” If they also swim together in the same direction, they are “schooling.”

So why do fish shoal and school together? The main reason appears to be that there’s safety in numbers.

Staying together in schools helps to protect fish from their enemies. While a predator might easily grab a fish by itself, it’s much harder for a predator to single out a victim if a fish is surrounded by hundreds of his closest friends.

Hanging out in schools also has a few other benefits. Scientists think that swimming close together may reduce friction in the water and make it easier for fish to swim and conserve energy.

When it’s time to eat, it’s also easier to find food as a group. A lone fish might be able to find a meal on his own, but having hundreds of sets of eyes and noses on the prowl for food is even better.

Not all fish shoal or school, though. Scientists estimate that at least 80 percent of all fish will school at some time in their lives. Some fish — often larger species — choose to live solitary lives.

If fish do decide to school, exactly how many fish does it take to be a school? While there’s no magic number that equals a school, there would usually need to be at least five or more fish to be considered a school.

In the wild, though, fish schools can be huge. In large bodies of water, schools of fish numbering in the hundreds or even thousands are not uncommon.

If you’ve ever seen a huge school of fish swimming together in unison, you may have wondered how they keep from swimming into each other. Scientists believe fish use a combination of all of their senses to keep track of the movements of the fish around them.

Having their eyes on the sides of their heads helps fish easily to see what’s going on around them. Sight isn’t the only tool fish use, though. They also use hearing and even their sense of smell to stay with the group.


6 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (10 votes, avg. 4.60 out of 5)
    • WOHOO, we love fish, too, Ellie! We hope you enjoyed learning about how fish travel, too! Have a WONDERful day! :)

    • We don’t think that a school fish are able to make or read symbols, Brain. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


  • Wonderopolis on Facebook
  • Wonderopolis on Pinterest
  • Print

Have you ever wondered…

  • Do fish swim in schools in the summer?
  • What’s the difference between shoaling and schooling?
  • Why do fish swim in schools?

Wonder Gallery

yellow runner school fish_shutterstock_61231831Vimeo Video

Try It Out

One of the interesting quirks of the English language is the wide variety of collective nouns we use to describe groups of animals. Although we could just use the term “group” to refer to all groups of animals, instead we use many different — and often quite interesting — terms depending on what animal we’re talking about.

A murder of crows… a herd of elephants… a pride of lions — these are just a few interesting examples. Curious about what other groups of animals are called?

Try to match the groups of animals listed below on the left with their collective nouns on the right. Did you guess them all? Find out if you were right!

Badgers                                           Coalition

Buzzards                                          Tower

Cheetahs                                         Troop, Barrel, Carload, Cartload or Tribe

Giraffes                                            Cete, Colony, Set or Company

Monkeys                                          Rafter, Gang or Posse

Turkeys                                            Wake


Still Wondering

Listen to Science NetLinks’ Zapping Fish audio podcast to learn why fish usually don’t get electrocuted when lightning strikes the water they are swimming in!


Wonder Categories/Tags

Wonder What’s Next?

What’s that stuff falling from the sky? Watch out! It’s tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.