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Home > Fish > How Well Can Fish Smell? Olfactory Facts & FAQs

How Well Can Fish Smell? Olfactory Facts & FAQs

hoplo catfish in aquarium

Fish have a completely different existence than what we’re used to. After all, they are constantly in water, they breathe through gills, and they swim around in the depths of water sources. Since we can’t relate to any of these things, and their bodies are so drastically different from ours, we may wonder if they have the five same basic senses.

So, can fish smell? The truth is, fish can most certainly smell, though the process is a bit different. In this article, we will discuss how fish smells and how important their sense of smell actually is.


Olfactory Senses of a Fish

Like humans, fish have access to all five senses: smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. Dr. Kelly Wright researched the olfactory function of fish and came back with some unique findings. She discovered that olfaction is actually a remarkably necessary sense for fish to navigate their surroundings.

Location of Olfactory Receptors

You can find fish’s olfactory receptors in pits on the snout—much like our own noses. However, they are built slightly differently, not used for oxygen but for smell.

Small sacs containing scent receptors are just under the skin between the nare openings. Water, which contains scent, travels through these sacks that connect directly to the brain by nerve endings.

Goldfish waiting for food
Image By: Kravchuk Olga, Shutterstock

How Do Fish Use a Sense of Smell?

Fish use a sense of smell for the following reasons:
  • Locating familiar areas and home bases: Like many animals, fish use their sense of smell to identify familiar ground. Some fish live in coral reefs, bays, rivers, and other water sources in generally the same area.
  • Locating spawning ground: Some fish, like salmon, use their sense of smell to identify a spawning ground where they go to lay eggs. So, a sense of smell is super important for reproduction.
  • Recognition of other familiar fish: Some fish recognize other familiar fish. They can bridge the connection thanks to their sense of smell along with other sensory clues.
  • Sensing danger: Fish would be gobbled up all the time if they couldn’t detect predators lurking nearby. Their sense of smell helps them navigate away from potential threats.
  • Stalking prey: In addition to avoiding becoming a meal themselves, fish also used this sense to stalk prey of their own.

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Can All Fish Smell?

All species of fish have the ability to smell. Some might have a keener sense of smell than others for activities like hunting and communication. However, every fish has the same sensory capabilities as humans. They simply experience them differently.

All fish, along with the other four, need this sense to defend themselves, deflect danger, find food, and receive information.

white and orange fish in an aquarium
Image By: PDPics, Pixabay

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So now you know that fishes do in fact, have a sense of smell. It is among the same five senses that human beings have. They use their sense of smell for various activities on their typical day.

The difference is that rather than breathing through their nostrils, they simply use these passages to transmit scent through the nerves into the brain to receive information about their surroundings. Isn’t it interesting how senses work in different species?

Featured Image Credit: Grigorev Mikhail, Shutterstock

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