Survival tips to a young fish from an old fish

by Rucha Karkarey

Last week, you were a small fish fry who survived a perilous journey in the open ocean. You have nearly reached your destination now — a beautiful coral reef in the Lakshadweep islands. It is here that you will find a home and settle down for life. You’ve learnt last week that settling into a home in the reef is a mighty challenge for a young fish fry. You have to evade predators on reefs, find an appropriate home, find food and compete with other little fry in this race. Your survival will depend on your performance over the next few days.

Don’t worry. Take a deep breath, and take a moment to go through these ten effective tips I’ve put together for you. They’ve helped me successfully settle in a lovely coral reef, and hopefully will do you the same.

1. Arrive early: Make sure you are among the first batch of fry to arrive at a reef. Firstly, you want to find a territory as soon as possible — before all the prime real estate is taken. Secondly, you might manage to reach the reef unnoticed by any predatory fish!

2. Arrive at night: Travelling at night is the safest option – it is usually in the safety of darkness that you can evade most predators. Also remember, your eyes are still very sensitive to light, which means you can see the reef better than a predator would at night.

3. Travel in small groups with other fish fry: The logic here is simple: if you swim in groups, it will give you safety in numbers. This means that if a predator attacks your group, there is a high chance that your neighbour gets eaten and not you!

4. Be choosy about your shelter: Chose your shelter wisely. A shelter should have two main features — a small hiding place that keeps you safe when a predator approaches, and enough food to last you for a few weeks.

5. Be prepared for competition: Thousands of fish fry will be settling into the reef at the same time as you. Many other fry will try to intrude into your shelter during this time. You must fight them off aggressively. Show no mercy here.

6. Be persistent: There will be adult fish that reside in shelters adjoining yours. Some of these resident adults can be very bossy and will try to chase you away. If you stay persistent in your shelter, the bullies will eventually accept you.

7. Have escape routes: There are many slender predators like eels that may easily slither into your tiny shelter. Just remember, you are smaller and more agile than them. There are plenty of cracks, crevices and hidden channels in the reef floor, which only someone as tiny as you can fit into. Explore these hidden escape routes near your shelter and be prepared to use them.

8. Be a mimic: Some fish near your shelter may be poisonous and are therefore not eaten by predators. You should learn to imitate the colours and behaviours of these poisonous fish. This is called ‘mimicry’. Remember, your body is going through a lot of changes and is still developing its permanent colour and shape.

Use this flexibility to mimic poisonous fish. This is a wonderfully effective strategy to fool predators!

9. Eat voraciously: You are a fast-growing baby. You need to eat and get bigger fast, so that predators stop bothering you. Once you are big enough, you can even compete with other fish to conquer their shelters, which may be better in quality!

10. Do not lose hope: When you feel exhausted, just remember that things will soon settle down in a week’s time. Give it your best shot. If you survive the first week of settlement, you will be strong enough to survive for a long, long time in the reef.

Go on now young fry, you are as ready as you will ever be! Take a plunge into the coral reef and don’t look back. I look forward to swimming with you one day.


Many fish fry take on bright colours for a few weeks when they settle into the reef. These are very different from their adult colours. The bright colours are used to signal to the predators that they are poisonous.

Fish fry grow very rapidly. Many species can triple their body size in the first two months after setting into the reef.

Different species of fish fry prefer different kinds of shelters- surgeonfish prefer to make their homes in areas that have algae growing on top of the corals. Clownfish like to seek shelters inside sea anemones. Rabbitfish like to seek shelter in areas that have seagrass.


This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 10 June 2015.

Picture: Deadly predator – A lionfish feeds on fish fry.. Credit: Rucha Karkarey