They say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, I feel like that phrase was created with fish in mind.
Have you ever watched schooling fish? I don’t mean a dozen or so fish meandering about aimlessly in close proximity to each other — I mean a densely-packed fish tornado:
Crazy, isn’t it? It looks like something out of a dreamscape.
Certain species of fish group together in order to confuse predators and protect themselves. Each fish reads the reactions of all of the fish around it, so if one of them suddenly darts to the side in order to avoid a predator then all of the other fish nearby know to dart as well. It’s kind of like every fish has eyes in the back of their heads. Also, these massive schools bewilder predators. Sharks and other dangerous sea creatures have trouble singling out individual fish, so they get flustered and can’t chomp into any of them. It’s truly amazing — every one of these fish is a natural-born leader, simultaneously leading its fellow fish and following herd mentality as they work together to spontaneously create geometric shapes.
I know it seems a little bit counter-intuitive. You’d think that with so many fish it’d be impossible for predators to miss, but schooling is surprisingly effective. Think about this way: suppose that I threw a single ball at you, and then I threw a whole bucket of balls at you. Would it be easier to catch a single ball the first time or the second time?
Together, these fish act like a single species as they deftly avoid sharks and other predators. The fish are mostly just concerned about survival, but luckily for aquascapers like you and me there’s an added benefit: schooling fish are absolutely beautiful.
Schooling fish add a truly unique aesthetic to your aquarium because the school acts like a completely new creature. Just like any other pet, your aquarium’s school can have its own unique personality. It could be energetic or languid, tightly packed or spread out, fast-moving or slow-moving.
It can be hard to predict the behavior of a fish school because there are so many variables involved, but there are a few things that you can do to create the perfect school aquascape. First, it’s important to do your research and understand the unique idiosyncrasies of schooling fish species. Each species schools differently, so you need to match the right species to your artistic vision. Second, you need to keep in mind that schooling is a defense mechanism. Schooling fish will often hang out next to each other naturally when there aren’t any threats, but the presence of nearby fish could seriously affect your school’s behavior. You might want to consider adding other species to create a more active school, or sticking with a one-species tank to create a more relaxed school.
There are so many options available that you should be able to find the species that’s right for you. Whether you want active fish that travel in tightly-packed masses or vibrant tropical fish that form a tapestry of color, fish schools can spice up a living space with truly breathtaking beauty.