Do Fish have Ears?

Local Park
Local Park

Just before sunset, we were in the park and spotted some fish jumping.   Flies hovered over the pond which the fish caught and ate.

Kam loves the park even so, we don’t see the fish jumping too often.  So, for a good 20 minutes we just watched.

All the time we were quiet, whispering to each other, trying to guess their next jump.

At bedtime Kam asked do fish have ears, can they hear?  It threw me a little because I’d forgotten about the fish.  Why do you ask?  Because we were quiet by the fish so, they must hear us.  Mum, I haven’t seen a fish with ears.

Do Fish have Ears?

Fish don’t have outer ear lobes so, in that sense they do not have ears.  But, they do have sensory systems to detect sound and vibrations.

Can Fish Hear?

Yes, fish can hear.  They have two sensory systems to detect sound.  They are

  • the inner ear (the auditory system), which detects sound
  • the mechanosensory lateral line system, which detects vibration and water flow.

When a fish hears a sound it teaches them about their surroundings.  For example they would know when they were moving from calm water to fast water or if they were in danger from a predator.

Can Fish Talk to Other Fish?

Goldfish talking?

Fish do not have complex language skills.

Communication in this sense would need a fish to start a direct and deliberate action, have it interpreted by the recipient and evoke a specific directed response from the recipient.

However, fish do communicate by making limited general sounds.  For example:

  • they make sounds during courtship for attraction,
  • defensively to protect their space,
  • territorially if they face predators or
  • if they are under stress.

These sounds are generally spontaneous outbursts.

So, fish make  simple communicative sounds.   Scientists describe these sounds as grunts, scrapes, knocks, clicks, squeaks, groans, booms, thumps, rumbles and drumming.  Most fish produce sound with their teeth, their swimbladder or both together.

Can Fish Hear People Speak?

My guess is they don’t hear us very well.  For example when we were at the park there was a lot of surrounding noise and we were not close to the water edge or surface.  Sound does not travel well from air to water – Think about it, if you are swimming underwater can you hear somebody speaking to you?

Salmon jumping, bear waiting
Salmon jumping, bear waiting


They would hear sound vibrations if you tapped on metal in a pond or tapped on the glass of a fish tank.

A Note to You and Me

I hope this helps.  I could have written more about how the auditory systems work, but it was way to technical for me to have a hope of simplifying for Kam.  Perhaps, at a much later time, giggle.

Thanks for reading this post. We’d love to hear from you.  As ever, let us know if you have enjoyed this post, can add something to it or perhaps clarify if we’ve missed the plot.  There is a comment box below.

We’ve written a poem about fish and their sleeping habits.  Here are the links:

Do Fish Sleep?
Fish and Sleep – a poem.
Fish and Ears – a poem.


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