Fish Are Superior to People!

When viewed at depth, a copperband butterflyfish looks much different than the colors we're familiar with.

When viewed at depth, a copperband butterflyfish looks much different than the colors we’re familiar with.

Why do I make this claim? Well, primarily to capture your attention. But think about some of the things fish can do that we cannot. For example, we two-legged beings can go forward, backward, and from side to side. Fish can do that too, but they can also go up and down, and they can do that just by thinking about it and barely moving a fin.

If we get up in the middle of the night because we hear a noise or are thinking about that Victoria’s Secret catalog on the table (strictly for research purposes, of course), we would run into walls, doors, windows, or, if we’re lucky, a beautiful cat burglar. (I would probably just trip over a cat!) But a fish would not run (or swim) into anything.

Have you ever gone fishing, sat there all day putting worms on a hook without getting a single bite, and then quit in disgust after throwing the rest of your worms in the water only to see 47 fish come up to devour all the worms you just dumped in? It happens all the time. They know there’s a hook in there. But how?

Put it all on the line

How are fish able to do all these things that are well beyond the capabilities of us “highly advanced” humans? Because fish have a lateral line that lets them know what is around them, even in pitch darkness. If a fish loses an eye, it barely notices and goes about life as if it just had LASIK surgery. It’ll get along fine just by relying on its lateral line. Everybody here who has a lateral line raise your hand. Higher! That’s what I thought.

Gender-bending ability

Many fish species can do something else that people can’t (without expensive surgery, anyway): They can change sex. Then, if they get bored, they can change back again.

I have some fire clownfish. Actually, I had one for a long time and then decided to get another one. That first one was either male or female; I have no idea. This fire clown sat there in a broken bottle for years and just looked out the glass at me. He (or she) kept guard over a nest and would keep it neat, blowing away detritus along with arrow crab poop. There wasn’t another fire clown within, perhaps, a 15-mile radius.

Then one day I added another fire clown and the two of them fought. I don’t know whether they both thought of themselves as boys, girls, or politicians. But then after a few years, they started becoming friends. Then they were more than friends if you know what I mean. So one of them became a female (I could tell by her eyelashes and the fact that she started to smell better).

Now I don’t know what possessed that one to change into a female, but I do remember walking in front of the tank in my underwear. I don’t know if that would have caused the transformation; my wife just tells me to get away from the front of the TV.

A kaleidoscope of colors

Another weird thing about fish is that the tropical ones are, for the most part, beautifully colored. Why is that? To attract mates? Scare predators? Look good in magazines? No, it’s because where fish live, the only color you can see is blue. If you descend in the ocean about 40 feet, or somewhere thereabouts (I’m a diver, but I never take a ruler with me), everything becomes blue because blue is the only color of the spectrum that gets through that much water. So all fish appear blue in the sea. A copperband butterfly would be blue with darker blue bands, and red appears black. The fish probably know why they have those colors, but no one else does.

Also, while we are seriously (or perhaps not so seriously) thinking about this, why do fish from temperate waters have drab colors? Ever see a bright red or blue flounder with yellow stripes? I didn’t think so, but why not? Why is it that people from tropical countries aren’t bright purple, yellow, and blue but tropical fish are? Despite having varying degrees of melanin in their skin, people from New York, Alaska, and Greenland are more or less the same colors as people from everywhere else. Why are fish so special?

So who’s really the superior animal?

Remember we spend thousands of dollars on fish, then spend more thousands on rocks, then spend hundreds on medications, test kits, books, etc. On top of that, we spend $12.00 for tiny little cubes of clam or mysis to feed them. What did a fish ever do for you? Nothing, right? Except die, jump out, or get ich, pop-eye, or swim bladder disease!

These are just some of the things I don’t know. There is a whole plethora of other things I don’t understand—an unimaginably vast expanse of knowledge I don’t possess. I mean we could go on about what is at the end of the universe and we would all have different opinions, sort of like ich threads. I think at the end of the universe is a brick wall with tar paper on top of it, and beyond that are strawberry fields forever. Prove me wrong. (Editor’s note: Pepperland, peopled entirely by Blue Meanies, actually lies beyond the universe…or is it across the universe?)

I guess we should save some room for your thoughts and then start on why invertebrates are smarter than we are.

Well, smarter than “some” of us anyway.


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About Paul Baldassano

Paul Baldassano has been in the hobby since the 50s and holds two aquarium-related patents. His current reef aquarium was set up in 1971. He is also an avid SCUBA diver and Vietnam veteran.


  1. I do not know why fish are superior but I bet they don’t have an imagination as good as yours
    very good post paul

  2. Todd Lachmann / TJ's Reef says

    Decided it was finally time to follow… I mean….. see what Paul was up to over here at Saltwater Smarts. Good ‘Stuff’ as always my friend, looking forward to spending some time in the Archives reading some of your early works….. post Roman Empire yet pre-Bush Gulf War I era…. maybe Clinton Blue Dress time frame….lol

    Cheers, Todd

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