Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.
Have you ever wondered about how a fish perceives its environment? Well I never did. But then I was approached by Dr. Phaedra Budy an expert on fish ecology at the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. She sent me some posters on the subject prepared by her fish diversity class.
Now I’d like to share with you some interesting facts that I learned from Phaedra and her students,
First of all, fish smell. I mean they have a sense of smell. But instead of a nose, fish have olfactory receptors located in pits on top of their heads. Water flows through these olfactory pit via cilia movement, muscular movement, swimming, or a combination of these. Odors in the flowing water are detected by receptors called olfactory rosettes. Fish use their sense of smell to distinguish other fish, communicate danger or find food. Some even use smell to find their way home. For instance, salmon species smell their way back to the stream where they were born in order to spawn.
Fish use taste buds to identify useful food vs. noxious substances. Interestingly, their taste buds don’t have to be located in the mouth. They can be located anywhere on skin, fins and barbels. Barbels are the fish equivalent of whiskers .
Imagine tasting a chocolate sundae with your whole body. If you were a catfish, you could. That’s because catfish have taste buds from head to tail. A six-inch catfish has over a million taste buds covering its whole body. Perhaps catfish are so dependent on their ability to taste because their murky environment makes it difficult to use their sight. Even a blind catfish will almost always be able to find food using its sense of taste.
The lateral line is a special sensory system found only in fishes. It runs along the length of the fish’s body and allows it to sense water displacement caused by the movement of other animals as well as the presence of stationary objects. Along this line, receptors called neuromasts sit in shallow pits or grooves between pores which are open to the environment. These neuromasts are sensitive to movement and send neural impulses to the brain regarding any type of external disturbance. The lateral line helps fish avoid collisions when schooling and to navigate successfully in lowlight conditions. Without the lateral line system, fish would constantly be swimming into the glass sides of aquariums.
If you want to find out more about fish perception or have other questions about fish biology, stop by the Nature Center on Saturday, November 22 from 2-4. Students of Dr. Budy’s fish diversity class will be hosting a poster display on how fish perceive their environment. And Dr. Budy herself will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about fish biology. For more information see www.logannature.org.
Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Photo Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, La Cross Fish Health Center https://www.fws.gov/midwest/LaCrosseFishHealthCenter/
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand
Moyle, Peter B., and Joseph J Cech, Jr. 2000. Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology (4th edition) NJ: Prentice Hall.
WATS 3100 poster assignment. 2008. Fish Diversity class. Dept. of Watershed Resources, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University.
The World According to Carp, Stokes Nature Center, November 22, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. https://www.logannature.org/