Schooling is a swimming behaviour where a group of fish swims in the same orientation and direction while shoaling is when a group of fish typically stays together as a social group. If you keep guppies, you might wonder, “Are they schooling or shoaling fish?”
Guppies are schooling fish, but you’ll rarely see them schooling in an aquarium because it is generally a safe environment. However, they often school as a defence mechanism in the ocean where predators or bigger fish threaten them.
Different varieties of guppy fish don’t school together.
Are guppies schooling or shoaling fish?
Guppies are schooling fish in their native range. Schooling is their way of protecting themselves against predators and other forms of danger. They face the same direction and mimic each other’s movements. In standard home aquariums, schooling guppies are usually between 3 – 6.
The benefits of schooling include the following:
- Improved defence against predators
- Increased chances of mating
- Improved swimming efficiency (saving energy)
Guppies swim together in groups and form a barrier that scares predators from attacking them. This stance makes guppies appear prepared to attack and fight back.
However, guppies are less threatened in aquariums, so it’s rare to see them schooling. Just like platies behave when schooling, guppy fish school in a coordinated and tight manner when they are out in the sea or lake.
I highly recommend keeping at least 3 to 6 guppies in an aquarium to allow them to play together and gain a sense of security in a school.-
However, you want to maintain a healthy population to prevent deviant behaviour, such as nipping among guppies in the aquarium.
Can different types of guppies school together?
Over 275 guppy species worldwide are distinguishable by colour, body shape, and pattern.
Despite being social and friendly fish, different types of guppies cannot school together. Only guppies of the same species school together. In other words, guppies with the same colour, body pattern, and body shape will swim with their kind.
However, that does not mean you can only keep guppies of the same species in an aquarium.
Do guppies school with other fish?
Guppies only school with guppies from the same species. They do not school with other types of fish or different species of guppies.
If your aquarium has enough space to keep more than one fish species, you can add them, but your guppies won’t school with them.
Can guppies live alone without tankmates?
Guppies can live alone in an aquarium, but keeping them with other compatible species is recommended. A community of fish is pleasant not just to watch but also for your aquarium’s biodiversity.
Their tank mates should have the same characteristics as the guppies. They should not be bigger than them to avoid predation.
Guppies get bored and stressed if you keep them alone in a tank. Some fish that will live peacefully with guppies in your fish tank are molly fish, glassfish, platyfish, and rasboras.
Schooling vs Shoaling Fish
Here is a summary of the difference between schooling and shoaling fish:
|Schooling fish||Shoaling fish|
|They swim in groups for protection reasons||They swim in groups for social reasons|
|They have to be from the same species||They do not have to be from the same species|
|They swim in the same direction with similar pace and pattern||They do not swim in the same directions, and they have no swimming pace and pattern|
|They have to be in a group of 6 and more to be identified as schooling group||They do not have a specific number, but they have to be more than 3|
Schooling fish swim together tightly, usually in the same direction while shoaling fish stay and move together in a loose group for social reasons. Therefore, guppies fit both definitions.
Guppies are schooling fish, schooling both in the aquarium and in the wild whenever they detect danger. They are also shoaling fish; they are very social and friendly, and that’s why they can be kept in an aquarium with other kinds of fish.
However, there is a thin line between schooling fish and shoaling fish. Differentiating the two can be challenging.
Let’s look at the differences between schooling and shoaling fish in detail.
When your guppy fish are in a group aligned together while swimming in the same direction at the same pace, they are described as schooling. They tend to school when they sense danger or threat on their way.
While in an aquarium or the wild, the fish will school together to protect each other. Fish used to schooling can become stressed if separated from their kind.
Some examples of schooling fish to keep in your aquarium include Cardinal Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras, Silver Tip Tetra, and Lambchop Rasboras.
You say fish are shoaling when they are swimming together in a group for social reasons. They do not swim in a pattern and do not have to be from the same species.
Benefits of shoaling include:
- Increased success in finding food
- Increase protection against predators
- Access to potential mates
I read a journal on the St. Joseph’s University website stating that “…fish in shoals find food faster and spend more time actually feeding… a large group of fish has a greater chance of finding food than does one single individual.”
Happy and healthy fish shoal together in circles and other directions within the same area or aquarium to play. They also don’t have to be of the same sizes or shapes. Shoaling often happens when the fish are playing or eating together.
- Why Do Guppies Stay at the Top of the Tank?
- How Long Can Guppies Go Without Food?
- Betty Staugler (2018) Schooling Fish, University of Florida
- Steve Lundeberg, Research shows flocking birds, schooling fish, and other collective movements can stabilize ecosystems, Oregon State University College of Science