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Fish Anatomy

External Anatomy

    Every hobbyist should try to acquaint themselves with the external anatomy of the fish they keep. The names of various fins and parts of the body are constantly occurring in the description of the species. I will try to help with the identification and definition of the various fish parts in the following section.

Typical Characin
Typical Cichlid
Fish Anatomy

(N) Nose or nares (L) Lateral line (D) Dorsal fin
(S) Adipose fin (O) Gill cover or operculum (C) Caudal peduncle
(T) Tail or Caudal fin (A) Anal fin (V) paired Ventral or pelvic fin
(P) paired Pectoral or breast fin


    The fins are made up of stiff rays covered by skin. Some may be jointed and some separate near the edge of the fin. In certain fish some of the rays supporting the find are bony, stiff and unjointed. They are referred to as spines. Almost half the fin rays in the Dorsal fin of Cichlids are bony spines. So the front (Anterior) portion of such a fin is called the Spiney Dorsal and the rear (Posterior) portion is called the Soft Dorsal.In Gobies and some other species the Spiny Dorsal and the Soft Dorsal are completely separated and form two distinct Dorsal Fins. The number of rays in the fin is also used in classification.

Fin Functions
    Each fin on a fish is designed to perform a specific function. I will list them here.
    The skin of fish is divided into two layers, the Epidermis (outer) layer and the Dermis. The Epidermis is made up of Epithelial cells, arranged one above the other. These cells are constantly shed and replaced with new ones. Inter-spaced between the Epithelial cells are slime cells which produce Mucoid secretions that form the very important protective covering, we know as the slime coat.The Dermis lies under the Epidermis and many important functions happen there.

    The deeper place Dermis of the skin is made up of connective Fibroblasts, Collagen and blood vessels. The scales of a fish lie in pockets in the Dermis and come out of the connective tissue. Scales do not stick out of a fish but are covered by the Epithelial layer. The scales overlap and so form a protective flexible armor capable of withstanding blows and bumping. There are two main types of scales, both are round, but in one the edges are serrated and the other are completely smooth. In the Mailed Catfish the scales are replaced by bony plates. In some other species there are no scales at all.

Pigment (color) cells
    The many pretty colors and patterns seen in fish are produced by cells in the Dermis. The cells are named for the pigment they contain. Fish can change color from one moment to the next. This is caused by the movement of Melanin grains within each cell. When dispersed, they Absorb more light and the area of the fish darkens. when tightened the fish goes pale.
    Respiration is carried out by means of gills located under the gill covers. The walls of the Pharynx is perforated by five slit-like openings. The tissue between the slits is called the Gill arch, so on each side of the fish there are five Gill Slits and Four Gill Arches. On the Gill Arches are mounted the actual Gills, a delicate system of blood vessels covered by a very thin Epithelium through which the gaseous exchange takes place.

Lateral line
    The lateral line consists of a series of scales, each modified by a pore, which connects with a system of canals containing sensory cells and nerve fibers. It runs in a semi line from the gills to the tail fin. It can easily seen in fish as a band of darker looking scales running along the side. The Lateral line has shown to be a very important sensory organ in fish. It can detect minute electrical currents in the aquarium water. It can also function as a kind of echo location process that helps the fish identify its surroundings.

Other senses in fish

    Fish have the five senses man has as well as the Lateral line. In fish the importance of each sense is different than us. I will briefly describe them here.



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