Shoaling vs schooling fish: What You Need to Know


Schooling fish swim together to give the appearance that they are bigger and stronger. This is mostly done to avoid predation. However, in some species of fish, this helps them increase foraging success and increases the chances for mating.


Shoaling fish, on the other hand, are fish that prefer to live in groups. While these fish may be foraging independently, they will typically stay close to other members of the same species. So if the group is moving, the fish is likely to follow and maintain a close distance with the group at all times.

Shoaling fish can also depict schooling behavior. While some species prefer to swim together at all times, others do so when faced with a threat. Guppies, for example, are shoaling fish. In high-predation environments, however, guppies are more likely to exhibit schooling behavior.

Team spirit: it’s important for some

In the wild or in an aquarium, schooling and shoaling behavior have many health benefits. When a fish begins to depict eating behavior, this triggers other fish around it to start searching for food. Sometimes, you’ll notice that when food is added to the aquarium, some fish aren’t able to find the food as fast as others. However, other fish will notice the excitement of those who have found food and thus begin searching themselves.

When alone, schooling or shoaling fish is likely to experience high levels of stress. Fish who are isolated from their conspecifics (members of their own species) become fragile in health due to high-stress levels.

It’s also important to mention that we cannot pair different species and expect them to form a group. Even if two species are considered to be of the schooling type, it’s unlikely that they will school together.

This applies to all species, whether or not they are from the same family or order. Therefore, neon tetras and black tetras, for example, are two separate species and will not school and shoal together. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Notable examples are catfish, who may shoal with other species. However, any species will ultimately prefer to shoal with its own species.

As fishkeepers, we subscribe to the idea that we must provide an environment that resembles that of which is found in the wild. While we may focus much of our attention on the physical appearance of our aquarium, we mustn’t forget that social interaction is important for the fish.

Therefore, if a species is either of the schooling or shoaling type, fishkeepers should optimally group 5 or more fish of the same species together. This will contribute to the happiness and health of the fish. In a less than ideal situation, the bare minimum is 2 of the same species.

In conclusion, it’s important to properly research a species of fish before you introduce it to your tank. While adding a single fish of many different species may provide a more colorful and varied aquarium, it may not be a sustainable choice. Remember that two different schooling species are unlikely to school together, even if they belong to the same family.

If you have any further questions about this topic, feel free to comment below or to contact us by email.

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