As these marvelous swimmers demonstrate, schools of fish definitely have the best talent shows.
1. Clownfish Regularly Change Sex.
Scientifically known as “sequential hermaphrodites,” all clownfish are initially born male. However, gender-swapping is rampant. As adults, clownfish develop complex hierarchies headed by a dominant female. Should she die off, one male will transform himself into the next alpha-female, continuing this strange life cycle.
2. Peacock Flounders are Masters of Disguise.
Flat fish don’t get much respect, but maybe they should. Pigment-altering skin cells enable the peacock flounder to radically change its color scheme within seconds. By comparison, chameleons generally take several minutes to even slightly modify their hues. Point goes to the flounder.
3. Clown Loaches Can Defend Themselves with Facial Spikes.
They’re a hit with aquarium enthusiasts, but any predator can tell you that clown loaches make terrible dinner guests. These colorful Indonesian fish have movable spines beneath their eyes which, when raised, make them exceedingly difficult to swallow.
4. Tiger Fish Can Snag Birds in Midair.
With their huge, razor-sharp teeth, African tiger fish look like they mean business. Scarier still, one specimen was recently recorded leaping clear out of a freshwater lake and engulfing an unfortunate bird just above the surface. You have to respect that kind of athletic ability.
5. Parrot Fish Help Build Beaches.
Have you ever kicked back on one of Hawaii’s gorgeous white beaches? Some of that sand was probably fish waste. Parrot fish eat various organisms that live on coral reefs. While feeding, they inevitably wind up swallowing chunks of rock-hard coral, a side-dish these critters can’t digest. Such pieces get broken down and pass through their systems as freshly-made sand.
6. Archerfish Are Expert Marksmen.
It’s like the world’s deadliest squirt gun. Archerfish have one of nature’s most oddly specific hunting strategies: namely, spraying hapless insects with a controlled jet of water. The victim—usually perched on an overhanging plant limb—falls directly into the archerfish’s eager jaws.
7. Sawfish Can Sense Beating Hearts.
Electroreceptors on a sawfish’s toothy snout allow it to detect even the faintest heartbeats. This really comes in handy, considering that preferred menu options (crabs, shrimp, smaller fish, etc.) regularly hide out under several inches of sand.
8. Sockeye Salmon Use Magnetic Fields to Navigate.
These salmon famously migrate for thousands of miles and return to the same streams in which they hatched. How can they pull off this amazing feat without a GPS? By picking up on tiny variations in the earth’s magnetic field. No two streams, after all, give off exactly the same magnetic signature.
9. Hagfish Fend off Predators With a Cloud of Slime.
They may look like pushovers, but these scavengers know how to protect themselves. The hagfish’s unique skin glands release a thick, fibrous haze of gunk that clogs jaws and jams gills to teach naïve attackers a lesson they won’t soon forget.
10. Antarctic Tooth Fish Have Freeze-Resistant Blood Streams.
Swimming through icy polar depths (which can dip below -2º Celsius) becomes child’s play when there’s an all-natural antifreeze coursing through your blood.
11. Gobies Go Rock Climbing.
Most fish would see trying to scale a waterfall as an impossible task. Luckily, few fish enjoy extreme sports more than rock-climbing gobies of Hawaii. When gobies need to venture upstream through swift mountain waters, waterfalls and sheer rock faces are no hurdle: The fish use their incredibly strong mouths and a unique sucker appendage on their bellies to grab onto rocks and gradually inch their way up to more hospitable territory.
12. Cookie Cutter Sharks Used to Re-Route Nuclear Submarines.
Evolution has equipped these guys to take circular chunks out of passing animals. And, as the U.S. Navy found out, the 22-inch sharks aren’t exactly finicky eaters. During the 1970s, cookie-cutters wreaked havoc on unsuspecting subs by chomping through sensitive cables and rubber sonar equipment, forcing these vessels to return to base.
13. Black Swallowers Really Live Up to Their Names.
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Generous jaws and a uniquely designed stomach enable these 10-inch predators to gulp down live meals that are twice their own length and 10 times as massive.
14. Plainfin Midshipmen Hum to Attract Mates.
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We don’t normally associate fish with vocalization, but some amorous males of this species, also known as “California singing fish,” emit hour-long humming noises to arouse potential mates (and angry grunts whenever a competitor zeroes in).
15. Mudskippers Climb Trees.
What’s even more amazing than a fish crawling around on land? A fish crawling up a tree. As adaptable mangrove swamp denizens, mudskippers periodically exit the water and walk over patches of mud. They’re also known to scale tree branches from time to time. Next up on their to-do lists: building treehouses.
All images courtesy of iStock unless noted otherwise.