The Many Shapes of Fish

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After visiting an aquarium or snorkeling near a reef, you may have wondered why fish come in so many different shapes. Given that all fish species need to get around underwater, why are some fish, like tuna, incredibly streamlined while others, like the box fish, are so, well, boxy? There are several major groupings for fish based on their shape and how they propel themselves, whether it’s by undulating their body and tail or primarily by flapping their fins. Which grouping a fish tends toward depends largely on its environment and needs. Open-water swimmers tend to use their bodies and tails. Their bodies are better streamlined, too, allowing them to outrace even some ships! Fish that live in more complicated environments, like along the seafloor or in a reef, tend to favor maneuverability over speed. These fish – which include rays, pufferfish, and surgeonfish – use their fins for their main propulsion. Many of these species are still faster swimmers than you or I, but their slower speeds have reduced their need for hydrodynamic streamlining, allowing these fish to evolve a wide variety of odd body shapes. (Video credit: TED-Ed)

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