The expression “mute as a fish” is often used by humans, but it is not true at all.
Fish communicate with each other with many different sounds depending on who they are intended for and what they wish to express.

Just like humans, fish can also communicate with one another. The most common ways they achieve this are through sound, color, bioluminescence, motion, electrical impulses and smell. These forms of communication are usually used to help navigate, call for spawning, alert predators to keep away, and while fighting.Romance is real in the seahorse world!

Obviously fish lack vocal cords, their sounds are emitted through the vibrations of their muscles against the swim bladder.


parrot fish

As you know, sound travels slower than light, but sound can travel further under the right conditions. Light travels only a short distance before it is scattered or absorbed underwater. In deeper areas, it is even more difficult to see the light, further limiting vision for many marine animals. On the other hand, sound travels much greater distances underwater. Strong echoes emitted by different animals are almost always present underwater, as very little noise is lost.

Three types of sounds are generally used by fish to communicate with one another—purr, crock and pop. Most of these sounds are inaudible to humans and are used during spawning, breeding and fighting. Sound is also used to navigate from one place to another and to identify the presence of predators and prey.

Oyster toadfish produce courtship calls to lure potential mates after building a suitable nest.

How Is This Sound Produced?

In many fish, the swim bladder produces sound.

Catfish move the vertebrae in their spines to create sound in order to communicate with each other.

The sonic muscle, which is attached to the swim bladder, contracts and relaxes sequentially. This makes the swim bladder vibrate, which in turn produces sound. Similarly, sound is also produced when hard parts of the body, such as teeth and bones, strike each other.


There is still a lot we don’t know about how fish communicate through scent. However, a recent study reports that certain cichlids use urine as a medium to send chemical signals to rivals during aggressive displays. These fish urinate to get their scented message across!

Urine in Zebrafish is an important tool for communication.

Female  zebrafish are known to secrete pheromones that function as sexual and social signaling molecules.

Male zebrafish use their sense of smell to swim towards females that are secreting such pheromones.


This is definitely the most developed form of communication in fish. Many fish are capable of brightening or darkening their skin, while some can glow or even change their colors to mimic other fish. Bright colors are also used by fish who aren’t excellent swimmers to tell other fish to stay away.

Lionfish use bright colors as a form of communication for predators.

These fish use color as a warning sign to predators.

For instance, groupers are known to alter their colors to communicate that that they’re willing to spawn.


Not all fish can produce sound to communicate, so under these circumstances, body language or movement is used instead. For instance, fish can create sound by vibrating their swim bladders.


bioluminescent fish

Some fish that live in deep waters generate light from their organs through a chemical reaction. As it is difficult to see in the deep parts of the world’s oceans, bioluminescence helps in fish recognition and communication with other creatures who are similarly hard to see!

Many fish use organs known as photophores to emit light that appears as luminous spots on their bodies. For instance, photophores are present along the belly of lantern fish. Some fish have photophores on the sides of their body, which can be used to help identify different individuals and for interspecific communication.

Electrical Impulses

Some fish have electrical organs that enable them to transmit electrical impulses. These impulses are usually directed at predators, warning them to stay away.

Electric eels have three specialized organs – the main electrical organ, the hunter’s organ and the Sach’s organ. These organs make up 80% of the electric eel’s body, while the other organs are all packed together tightly.

electric eels are an excellent example of fish that use electrical impulses to communicate

These organs create both strong and weak electrical charges that can be used for hunting, navigating, defense and communication. For communication, electric eels use low electric discharges generated in short pulses. Electric eels can detect and identify these signals underwater and can gather information about other individuals nearby. Using electrical signals, they can convey messages.

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