Do Fish have Feelings for Babies? 4 Out of 6 Studies Say So



  • Fish have feelings for their babies. For example, Cichlids & Bettas.
  • To defend their babies, fish show aggressive behavior.
  • Some fish like goldfish don’t provide parental care and can eat their own babies.

There is no doubt that animals have feelings. We have all seen animals exhibit signs of love, anger, fear, and sadness. But there is an ambiguous question: Do fish have feelings for babies too?

The answer may surprise you because some fishes take care of their babies while many eat their babies.

Here are 5 scientific studies we are going to discuss with you. This article will help you to get a clear answer about fish feelings.

Do fish have feelings for Babies? – Cichlids & Bettas do

Have you ever observed a fish in an aquarium? Various researchers explain that some fishes have feelings for their babies.

Study – 1

According to one of the most famous scientific studies, cichlids and male bettas are aquarium fishes with feelings for their babies. These fishes take care of their babies. In contrast, female bettas eat their offspring alive and don’t care about them.

Study – 2

A researcher, John R. Oppenheimer from the Department of Zoology, University of Illinois, studied how fishes care for their young ones. According to him, Mouth breeding or oral incubating behavior in species of cichlids (Tilapia), betta and some jaw fishes are common.

Cichlids and bettas prove that answer to the question, do fish have feelings for babies? is yes.

Some fishes build bubble nests for their babies. In extreme weather conditions, the bubble nests may be washed away by streams. Therefore, these fish take their babies into their mouths and breed them. This is the strategy to protect the babies that fish adopts.

Don’t you think these fishes provide parental care to young ones and have feelings for them? Without feelings, they won’t do it.

How Do Fish Raise Their Babies?

How fish raise their babies and protect their eggs shows that fish have feelings for their babies.

Study – 3

Anthony P. Farrell wrote in his book Encyclopedia of Fish Psychology: From Genome to Environment that;

“By fanning the eggs with their fins, parents ensure that fresh, aerated water is passed over the eggs regularly. Many parent fish also clean the eggs, placing their mouths against them and sucking away detritus or removing dead or fungus-ridden eggs”.

The care parents fish do for their babies proves that fish have feelings for their babies.

Cichlid and betta fishes have feelings for their babies. They take care of their young ones. Similarly, Groupers also do parental care of their babies after they hatch.

Cautions: Be careful when you keep Lyretail cichlids in your aquarium. These fishes are excellent in parental care and show aggressive behavior to defend their babies. Cichlids can kill other fish to protect their family.

Various fishes, such as Sharks, feed their babies. There is a distinct behavior of sharks. Shark keeps their babies in their uterus and produces unfertilized eggs as food for baby shark. Mako and the thresher shark show this behavior.

Study – 4

According to another study, the Shark species known as Sandtiger keeps many babies in their uterus. A giant baby eats the weak one. This feeding behavior is known as intrauterine cannibalism or brother eating.

This is not the same parental care as a human being because the fish brain is not as complex as a human’s. But, according to fish habitat and resources, fish feed and nurture their young ones.  

That means fish have feelings for their babies. Meanwhile, many species of fish leave their offspring after spawning.

The above behavioral studies positively respond to the subject, do fish have feelings for babies?

Study – 5

The Ecologists talk about two different reproductive strategies. One is R-selected, in which species produce more offspring. They don’t invest energy to take care of them. Ultimately, most of the offspring dies.

Another strategy is K-selected, in which species produce fewer offspring and provide parental care. These babies survive for a more extended period.

According to Ecologist’s theory, many species of fish are R-selected compared to primarily K-selected mammals.

For instance, Goldfish belong to the R-selected group because they do nothing for their offspring after spawning. Goldfish can eat their eggs or babies because it produces hundreds of eggs.

While, Symphysodon (Discus) – a home aquarium fish, properly provides parental care by taking care of their eggs and fans and cleaning them before hatching.

In Discus parental care is common which shows fish have feelings for babies

These fishes also secrete milky mucus from their skin to feed their babies for four weeks and protect them from predators. Some species of ray fish also produce milk in utero to feed their young ones.

Thus, there is an evident variation in how fish handle and care for babies or some don’t care for them.

Why Do Fishes Eat Their Babies?

Most of the fish have feelings for their babies. Some species abandon their babies.

Study – 6

In another study, it was claimed that most aquarium fishes eat their babies (Filial Cannibalism). The “energy base hypothesis” explains why fish eat their offspring.

Each day, other fish consume thousands of fish babies, and occasionally even the parents of the infants eat their offspring. When the fish population is exceptionally high, they eat their own young.

Some fish lack parental care which means they don't have feelings for babies

Fish frequently consume their young ones. Most of the time, the reason may be that they are delicious with energy and are unsure which ones belong to them.

Most fish lack parental care; thus, the female will lay her eggs on an object or just out in the water, and the male fertilizes them. When they are starving and don’t know which offspring are theirs, they can eat their babies.

The justifications for eating one’s offspring become more intriguing. A female may eat her young to regain the energy she invested in them if she anticipates that the offspring won’t survive. Fishes can reproduce more and more babies.

If some large fish are in the surroundings, young ones are constantly in danger of dying. Therefore, parent fish may consume the baby fish themselves. If fins or any other body part of baby fish get damaged, then parent fish eat them.


While there is no clear consensus on this question, there is some evidence that some fish have feelings for babies.

For example, studies have shown that fish form bonds with other fish and can even recognize individual fish. Additionally, fish have been known to behave differently around babies, such as being more protective.

While more research is needed to confirm whether or not all fish have feelings for babies.

So the next time you’re at the aquarium, take a moment to observe the fish and tell us Do fish have feelings for their babies or not?


  1. Integrative approach to the diversity of nesting behavior in fishes
  2. Mouth breeding in fishes by John R. Oppenheimer
  3. Encyclopedia of Fish Physiology: From Genome to Environment by Academic Press.
  4. The behavioral and genetic mating system of the sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus, an intrauterine cannibal.
  5. Do not eat your kids: embryonic kin recognition in an amphibious fish

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