What are female fish called?

Are all fish simply just called fish? You’ve probably found yourself wondering if male or female fishes have different names like a lot of other animals do.

The sex of a fish isn’t as clear cut as it is with other animals. Some of them change their sex, and some can even do it multiple times in their life! Since the sex of these animals can be kind of complicated, there is no specific word for male and female fishes. So if ever you’re asked the question, “what are female fish called?”, you can correctly answer it by simply saying, “fish”.

However, there are a lot of other words that can be used to describe fish, and in this article, we take a look at some of these words as well as a dive into the nature of a fish’s sex.

women with fish

Is There A Specific Word For A Female Fish?

As mentioned earlier, there is no specific word for a female fish. Both male and female fish are referred to simply as fish. However, there are a couple of words that are used to describe fish that can change their sex.

Fishes that can change their sex are called hermaphrodites. Hermaphroditism can manifest in fish in many different ways, but the most common way it does is a fish will start off as one sex, and later on in life change it. This is called sequential hermaphroditism. 

When a fish is a female and transitions to a male, it is called protogyny, and when a fish is a male that transitions into a female, it’s called protandry. There are multiple species of fish that are hermaphroditic, and a prime example of this are wrasses.

These fishes are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means that these fish transition from female to male at some point in life. When these fish change their sex, it’s very evident by the color changes.

pink margin fairy wrasse
Wrasses are a common species of fish that change sex

Similar to how humans dress up nicely to attract a mate, male wrasses dress themselves up in bright colors to attract more females. Sex changes with wrasses happen socially. Male wrasses usually control a harem of females, usually being in control. If the male in the harem dies, the most dominant female in the shoal will transition into a male and gain control of the harem.

When the male goes missing, it only takes a couple of hours for the dominant female to begin to behave like a male. This triggers a hormonal shift in the body that causes the female to begin transitioning.

Her gonads will turn into male gonads and her colors will begin to change, and within a couple of weeks, the female would have transitioned fully.

Clownfish are hermaphrodites

Another example of hermaphroditic fish is Clownfish (yes, the ones you saw in Finding Nemo). However, they are protandrous hermaphrodites. Their social structure is much different from wrasses as they don’t control a harem.

Instead, two Clownfish, a male and a female, dominate an anemone that houses several Clownfish that aren’t as mature. If the female dies, shortly after they disappear the male will begin transitioning.

picasso clownfish

And to replace the male, the most mature fish in the anemone will replace the original male fish.

Some fish species are neither protandrous nor protogynous, instead, they are simultaneous hermaphrodites. This is exactly what it sounds like, it means that the fish is simultaneously a male and a female. An example of fishes that are like this is Caribbean Hamlets.

They have both male and female reproductive organs, but to avoid self-fertilization, the fish do this thing called “role trading”. When this happens, one fish will play the role of a male and one will play the role of the female.

Once the eggs are fertilized by the sperm of the fish playing the male role, the fish will repeat this process, but they will switch roles. By doing this, both of the fish have fertilized eggs and both fish released sperm. 

How To Tell A Female From A Male Fish

While it may seem hard to tell the difference between a male and female fish, there are actually many things one can look at to distinguish them. This can be pretty useful when taking care of a number of fish, so let’s get to it.

Body Size

Generally, male fish will have larger, but thinner bodies than the female. So in a group of fish, the ones that are taller and longer are usually the males. However, this can be different for different species, so make sure to do further research if you’re still unsure.

Frontosa Cichlid Photo
Adult male Frontosa Cichlids have a huge hump on their heads females less so

Color

This is another way to determine the sex of the fish. During the mating season, male fish will usually have brighter and more vibrant colors. The purpose of this is to have better chances of attracting females.

However, there are certain female fish that also have brighter colors when they release eggs, so this might lead to some confusion. Furthermore, fish with a healthy diet tend to have brighter colors regardless of sex, this is why fish kept as pets that are fed well are usually very vibrant.

Some foods can help enhance the color of your fish. See a wide selection here.

Fins

This also has to do with size, as male fish tend to have fins that protrude farther out, giving them a larger appearance. Females, on the other hand, will have shorter fins which can be easy to spot. 

Determining a fish’s sex may be fairly easy when they are in a group, but you may have a pretty hard time trying to distinguish a male and female fish if you have no point of comparison.

Other Words Attributed To Fish

While there’s no gender-specific word for fish, there are many other words out there that you might encounter that are used to describe fish. We take a look at some of these words in this segment.

Schooling

This is probably a term most of us are familiar with, as we learn it while still in grade school. The world school is used to describe a large number of fish together. These groups of fish are usually large in number and travel together in pursuit of a single goal. This goal is usually to migrate to a place with a more apt climate for their needs.

Shoal

This is used to describe a smaller community of fish, such as the harem of a male wrasse. These fish usually stay together for security as there is a lot of safety in numbers in the vast ocean. 

Conclusion: What are female fish called?

So there you have it, all the basics of the sex of fishes. It is slightly more complicated than with most land animals, which is probably one of the reasons there’s no specific word for a male or female.

So next time, you’re asked the question asked what female fish are called, you will be one hundred percent correct if you simply answer, “fish”.

Carl Broadbent
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