Are Guppies Schooling fish? ( We explain schooling versus shoaling )

Schooling and shoaling are two words commonly used to describe Guppies when they spend their time together in groups. They are often thought of as two words that describe the same behavior, though they do not. Schooling and shoaling are actually two different actions, as you will see as you read on.

Shoaling And Guppies

Anyone that keeps the bright and beautiful Guppy will know that they thrive best when kept in groups of six or more. Why? Well, because they are a social fish that enjoys and benefits from the company of their own kind.

The act of Guppies grouping together socially is commonly known as shoaling.  It is not an action, however, limited to Guppies alone. Many other aquarium fish such as Mollies, Platy’s and small Tetras display this behavior too. In fact, ¼ of all fish shoal for their entire lives, and ½ for part of.

Schooling And Guppies

Schooling fish are also fish that stay in groups but in a different manner to shoaling. Shoaling will swim in many directions to each other, whilst schooling all swim in the same direction. This enables fish to not only stay strictly in a group but also to swim faster, and avoid predation.

Guppies in the home aquarium will rarely be seen schooling unless they feel threatened. They are, however, classed as a schooling fish since they frequently display this behavior in their natural habitat.

More About Shoaling

Fish species that shoal will most likely do so in order to easily find food and mates. They prefer shoals to be of a large size with shoal mates being of the same species, similar in size and appearance, healthy, and where recognized kin.

Any shoal-member that looks different in appearance may be more easily targeted by predators. This is because they stand out and may explain why shoaling fish prefer to be with those they closely resemble. Scientifically, this phenomenon is called the Oddity Effect.

The majority of shoaling fish will also school. They can shift into a disciplined and coordinated school and back in seconds. Reasons for doing so are varied but most commonly are related to feeding, resting, traveling, and avoiding predators.


More About Schooling

Avoiding predation is the top reason that fish school. Species such as Herring and Anchovy spend most of their time displaying this behavior. If one is separated from the school they become agitated and will do all they can to return.

Interestingly, many large fish and cetaceans also school but it is unlikely that their top reason for doing so is predation. These include species such as Tuna, Sharks, dolphins, porpoises, and whales. It is more likely that these species are schooling for social reasons, like those that shoal, but due to their natures are often traveling in the same direction. Hence they are classed as schooling rather than shoaling.

The shape of a school will vary depending on the species and what they are doing. Traveling schools, for example, may form long thin lines, squares, ovals, and amoeboid shapes. Fast moving shoals are most likely to be wedge-shaped, whilst feeding are circular. Predation avoidance shapes will vary with Herring forming one of the most spectacular.

To see some amazing examples of schooling fish read our article entitled: 14 Best Aquascaping Fish or see the video below.

The Herring Doughnut

Herring congregate in huge numbers with the largest schools often being formed during their migration. Schools, at this time, congregate together forming mega schools which can take up as much as 4.8 cubic kilometers of space. This is about 3 billion Herring for those not good with envisioning area!

As Herring have very good hearing they can react extremely quickly to predators nearby. They will try to keep a safe distance from them, especially cruising Orcas who could decimate a school in minutes. They also, and this is the spectacular part, form a space in their school that looks like a doughnut from above, swimming round and round in a circular motion.

Does Schooling Work?

It is certainly not the case that fish in schools will not be eaten. However, it is highly likely that as a result of schooling LESS are eaten than would be if they were alone. This due to the three effects it is believed schooling has on predators which are:

1 The Confusion Effect – Schools make it difficult for predators to spot individual prey.

2 The Many Eyes Effect – In a school there are many pairs of eyes scanning for predators and spotting them quicker than individuals could.

3 The Dilution Effect – Teamed with the confusion effect there is safety in numbers. It is a given that the predator will eat a smaller proportion of a large shoal than it would of a smaller one.

It should be noted, however, that there is a trade-off involved in schooling. Whilst the chances of being predated upon may decrease, there is increased competition for food. Also, predators will focus on schools of fish and are often acutely aware of their numbers and whereabouts. Some species may even follow fish on their migration paths with them traveling thousands of miles to get a meal!

Conclusion: Are Guppies Schooling Fish?

With the main reason for schooling being avoiding predation, especially when traveling, it is highly unlikely that you will see Guppies in an aquarium school. You are, in fact, far more likely to see them shoaling, going about their sociable lives together, whilst swimming in different directions.

For more information on the amazing Guppies click the links below.