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Can fish drown? How They Breathe.

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It’s easy to take fish for granted. You forget how remarkable it is that they manage to exist in a very different environment to us.

Thinking of the life of a fish leads to many questions like ‘how do fish mate?’ and ‘do they sleep?’.

Another popular question people ask is: “can fish drown? “

Fish need oxygen just like humans do, but because they live in water, it doesn’t seem like they’d be able to drown. They’ve adapted gills that let them extract oxygen from the water, so is it possible to drown when they can breathe in water?

This article will analyze the subject by looking at significant aspects, including whether fish have lungs, how fish breathe, and much more.

Is it possible for fish to drown?

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(Image Credit: Getty Images)

Most people think that fish are incapable of drowning. After all, they live and breathe underwater!

This may come as a surprise to many, but fish may perish from a lack of oxygen. Believe it or not, fish require oxygen to survive, just like humans and air-breathing animals. When they don’t have access to use oxygen, it’s hard for them to remain alive.

You see, oxygen is responsible for sustaining both land and aquatic life. Oxygen combines with other elements to create proteins and living cells. It also plays a role in storing energy that every biological function in a fish’s body requires to keep active.

Oxygen supports the organs and ensures that everything from the brain to the liver is operating appropriately.

While dramatically different on the surface, there are several similarities between your body and the body of a fish. Their hearts pump oxygenated blood to their various organs continuously. Both also have organs that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide.

The distinction resides in how fish respirate and how they receive their oxygen.

Fish make use of dissolved oxygen in the water. Although oxygen molecules are invisible, their presence cannot be denied.

The oxygen content in water is between 2 and 8 PPM, or parts per million. For reference, the air we breathe is roughly 210,000 PPM.

Fish certainly have a more challenging task of acquiring oxygen. We’re fortunate in that they have less of a need than we have. There is a lot of cold-blooded fish. They can get by without consuming all the additional energy warm-blooded creatures require to remain alive.

As a result, they can function at significantly lower quantities of oxygen. Even yet, fish still require oxygen to survive.

So, can fish drown?

The ability of fish to perish in low-oxygen situations is well-known. The precise word for what happens isn’t “drowning,” though. Suffocation is more like what occurs.

Do Fish Have Lungs and What Are Labyrinth Organs

Can fish drown 5
A playful clown-fish hiding in blue sea anemone and looking at the camera.
(Image Credit: Getty Images)

Typically, fish don’t have lungs. There are certain species of fish that have gills on just one side of their bodies, although this is not universal.

Lungfishes are a kind of fish. As their name implies, they don’t have gills but instead, use their lungs for breathing air.

They’re a small collection of six freshwater species that can only be found in Africa, Australia, and South America.

Burrowing into the substrate and going into a semi-hibernation condition is a way for African and South American animals to survive a drying up of their environment. They achieve this by slowing their metabolism down to 1/60th of its regular pace.

Many more freshwater rivers and lakes formerly supported a more significant population of lungfish. Their people have gone down substantially since Pangaea split apart.

Lungfish aren’t the only fish that can breathe air; others have a labyrinth organ. Instead of living water, fish may get oxygen via this organ, which functions as a lung. It’s not commonly present in youngsters. They start with gills and subsequently build labyrinth organs.

Lots of aquarium fish have labyrinth organs, such as kissing gouramis and crowntail bettas.

While breathing air is a primary feature for fish, it may help them thrive in environments that could not be survivable for any fish respiring in the contaminated water.

However, in most locations, the water is safe. Therefore fish don’t require lungs to breathe air since there’s enough oxygen in the water. The gills of fish, on the other hand, have evolved specifically to collect this oxygen.

How They Breathe

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Colourful koi fish (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) surfacing and gasping for air in garden pond.
(Image Credit: Getty Images)

Fish have a unique and intricate method of breathing. The gills are very efficient organs capable of extracting even minute volumes of dissolved oxygen out of the water for utilization.

Fish use their gills to drive water through them to get to the oxygen in their environment. To achieve it, most employ a tiny flap of skin called the operculum. The operculum is the tiny slit that opens and closes when the fish respires.

When they “take a breath,” fish will alter the pressure in the mouth to move water. Lowering the floor of the mouth encourages water to flow in. When the bed is raised, the operculum is pushed open, allowing the water to drain.

As the water passes through the gills, the feathery filaments remove dissolved oxygen via a mechanism called countercurrent exchange. The epithelial tissue then aids oxygen absorption into the circulation.

Because oxygen levels in the water aren’t even near what they are in the air, fish need to move a lot of water to remain alive. To get as much oxygen as possible, the gills have a vast area. The alternative is that they’ll suffocate to death if they’re unable to breathe on their own.

Fish Suffocation and Drowning

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Golden butterflyfish (Chaetodon semilarvatus) swimming over coral reef with soft corals. Egypt, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden.
(Image Credit: Getty Images)

When fish are out of the water, they still have access to oxygen at a considerably greater concentration. You may question what causes them to die if they can still breathe. Well, the explanation is that they can’t live, but it’s not due to a lack of oxygen.

They can’t breathe since gills aren’t intended to digest air, but it doesn’t imply that they can’t do it. The problem is that the air dries them out such that they can no longer operate correctly.

Dehydration is the closest analogy. When living in water, a fish’s body remains wet. Since gills are supposed to stay moist, they don’t operate if they dry out of water.

A fish may suffocate in water as well as out of it. There are thousands of ways this may happen. Any injury to the gills will impair their effectiveness in collecting oxygen, maybe to a point where they can’t gather enough to live. Damage might happen via warfare or sickness.

Other causes of suffocation include factors that diminish the concentration of oxygen in the water. An increase in population size is an excellent example. More fish are respiring and eating up the oxygen.

Oxygen may run out if it’s not being replaced quickly enough. In an aquarium, this may happen fast since they usually contain such a small quantity of water. In a natural environment, pollution may lead to a rapid de-oxygenation of water that cannot be restored quickly enough.

Wrapping Up

Can fish drown? Absolutely. And having your fish drowning is undoubtedly not a pleasant experience.

Keep dissolved oxygen levels high in your aquarium by having plenty of water movement and interaction with air at the surface. You won’t have to see what occurs when fish drown if you keep water out for parasites and illnesses and steer clear of fish with altered bodies.

We’d love to hear from you if you have any additional questions regarding why fish require oxygen, how fish may drown, or the way air and water interact.

Also Read: What does baby roach look like?
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5 Comments
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