Summer is a perfect time to study fish because we are often near or in the water where fish live.
What are fish? Fish are animals with fins and a backbone. Most breathe with gills. Bony fish have scales covering their body.
Activity 1. Fish Anatomy
Learning about the names of the external structures of fish can help with identification and understanding of fish behavior.
(Public Domain Photo via VisualHunt.com)
The fins help fish move through the water, steer, and also to stop. The position and types of fins vary with different kinds of fish.
Water carrying oxygen passes into the mouth, over the gills where some of the oxygen is removed, and then out from behind the operculum (gill cover).
The mouth shape varies depending on what kind of food the fish eats.
The nostrils detect odors or chemicals in the water, important for finding prey and avoiding predators.
Reinforce learning by having the children draw or make their own fish and then label and talk about the different parts.
- Gyotaku fish print activity (Growing with Science post)
- For young children, look for Rainbow Fish crafts, like this one.
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife has fish anatomy posters and worksheets to download, especially useful for older children.
- Look for instructions for how to draw a fish, like this one.
- Read the beginning reader Fish Body Parts by Clare Lewis
Age Range: 4 – 7 years
Publisher: Heinemann (August 1, 2015)
Activity 2. Fish Identification
The major groups of fish are jawless fishes (eels), bony fishes, and cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, skates).
The jawless fishes‘ skeleton is made of cartilage like the cartilaginous fishes, but they don’t have jaws or paired fins. Their gill is a single opening in the top of their head. They don’t have scales.
Bony fish have scales, jaws and their gills are on either side of their body. They have a skeleton made of bone.
(Public Domain Photos via Visual hunt)
Cartilaginous fishes also have a skeleton made of cartilage, but unlike jawless fishes they do have jaws and some paired fins. They have gill slits on either side of the body.
(Public Domain Photo via VisualHunt)
Pop quiz: To which of the above groups do seahorses belong? (Answer at bottom)
(Public domain photo by Lisa McCarty, PublicDomainPictures.net)
To reinforce learning, try some fish identification games. You can either print out prepared games or make your own. Try fish flash cards, a fish concentration game (make two copies of each fish card for making pairs), or make a board for fish bingo. Have your children create cards with different types of fish on them. Look for realistic fish stickers or images to download from the internet.
- The Texas Fish and Wildlife Service has printable flash cards of 24 different kinds of fish (direct link to .pdf)
- Monterey Bay Aquarium has critter cards and game suggestions with fish and other underwater creatures.
Activity 3: Fish Behavior
We often think of fish simply as little robots swimming around, but they can exhibit many fascinating behaviors. Take for example the “fishy fireworks” produced by this cardinal fish feeding on ostracods. If the ostracods light up, then the fish spits them out to avoid attracting predators.
Take some time to watch fish in a tank or pool. You might discover fish playing, schooling (TED lesson), or fish defending themselves. We recently found out there is some evidence fish can suffer from motion sickness.
Record your observations in a notebook. If you have any questions, plan an experiment to test your ideas.
- Discussion of bony fish behaviors (SeaWorld)
- To learn more about fish, take a field trip to one of the many commercial and public aquariums nationwide. Wikipedia has a list to get you started.
- Read a book. See our growing list of children’s books about fish for ideas.
Answer to pop quiz: Seahorses are bony fishes.