oawai]sGm (of Fish lndra wil fil
U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #29
Fish make up more than 1/2 of all vertebrate
species. Globally, there are 3 classes, Agnatha,
Chondrichthyes and Ostiechthyes, with over 22,000
different species of fish. This is not too surprising,
since over 71% of the planet is covered by water.
Fish are generally unable to internally regulate
their own body temperature. The environmental
temperature is used to regulate their body
temperature. We refer to this as being cold-blooded.
We can split up the fishes into 6 general types,
each of which can be used to identify the life style of
the fish. These types are, the rover-predator
(mackerel, tuna), lie-in-wait predator (barracuda,
trumpet fish), surface-oriented fish (flying fish,
mosquitofish), bottom fish (peacock flounder,
goatfish), deep-bodied fish (butterfly fishes, tilapia),
and snake-like fish (eels, loaches, and the agnatha).
Fish utilize many different techniques to move
through the water, as can be seen in the different
body types. Many propel themselves through the
water by using wave like movements with their
bodies and tails, using their fins to control their
direction and for stability. While others, like sea
horses and mola, have specialized dorsal and anal
fins for moving through the water.
All fish have "slimy" secretions on their skin,
which helps protect them from chemicals, decreases
friction with the water and makes them more
efficient swimmers. Other characteristics of fish are
a lateral line system, used to detect pressure changes
in the water (like hearing), and gills for respiration.
Classes of Fish
The fish found in
the class Agnatha
consists of two
groups, the lampreys
and the hagfishes.
They are found in both
fresh and salt water
where they either act
as parasites or
scavenge on other
dead animals for food. I
They have the
simplest body shapes
of all fishes. These fish have no hinged jaws, they
lack scales and possess a skeleton made of cartilage.
Cartilage is lighter than bone and is used by fish to
reduce weight, especially in fish with no swim
bladder. Instead of a jaw they have an oral sucker,
which they use to attach to their food.
These species include
all the sharks, skates, rays,
and ratfish. Like the
Agnatha, they have a
cartilaginous skeleton and
no swim bladder.
However, this is where the
similarities end. The
Chondrichthyes also have
a cartilaginous jaw with a
loosely attached lower jaw. The jaw of a shark can
be unhinged to open wider while feeding and can
have as many as 8 rows of teeth. Whenever a shark
loses a tooth, another one comes up. A shark may go
through as many as 2,400 teeth a year.
Their skin is covered with
denticles, which are tiny
tooth-like projections. The .
denticles make the skin rough,
giving it the texture of
sandpaper. The denticles help
the shark be more slippery in
water so they are very
They have a large oily
liver that helps maintain
buoyancy. Sharks additionally
have an asymmetrical tail fin,
which along with flattened
pectoral fins, provides lift,
which compensates for
The bony fish are the
largest group of fish and are
the most recognizable. They are called bony fish
because their skeleton is calcified rather than the
cartilage seen in the Agnatha and Chondrichthyes.
The bony fishes are
divided into two categories,
the lobed finned and the ray- -
finned fishes. The ray-finned
fishes make up over 95% of all living fish species.
Only the lungfishes and coelacanths have survived as
members of the fleshy-finned species. It is believed
that the lobed fin fishes were the first vertebrates to
settle on land, eventually
One of the other special
adaptations that bony fish
have is a swim bladder. The
swim bladder is a gas filled .
sac found inside the abdomen. '-- '.
The majority of the gas found inside the sac is
oxygen with some nitrogen and carbon dioxide
present. Bony fish can regulate the amount of gas in
the bladder to help them maintain neutral buoyancy,
like a SCUBA divers B.C.D.
The fins of many bony fin fish have a web of
skin supported by rays. Each ray is moved by a set
of muscles allowing for great flexibility in the shape
and position of the fin. As the most prolific fish
group, they are the type of fish most likely seen
while snorkeling in our waters.
About 950 million people rely on fish as their
primary source of protein and 200 million people
earn a living by fishing. To most people, the ocean
seems to be an endless supply of fish and aquatic
resources. This is no longer true. In some fisheries
3/4 of everything caught is "bycatch" and is thrown
back into the water dead. As recreational fishing
increases in popularity, so does the numbers of fish
removed from the ocean.
Overfishing is a threat to many fish species. By
practicing unsustainable fishing methods, such as net
fishing (trawls, and tangle nets), fish populations can
be rapidly depleted. It is very important to only take
what is needed, and to take only fish that have had a
chance to reproduce. If not, fish populations will
decrease and there will not be enough fish for future
Pollution and runoff from shore, sewage outflow
and dumping at sea can all have negative effects on
fish. Species may mistakenly consume plastic bags
instead of jellyfish. They may also ingest chemical
toxins released into their habitat. These may have
negative effects on the health of the fish and the
toxins will be passed on to people when the fish are
consumed. For example, high levels of mercury
have been found in tuna causing doctors to warn
pregnant women against eating too much tuna.
Properly dispose of all garbage and contaminants
so that our aquatic plants and animals are not
negatively impacted. For more information on fish
and other local species please refer to our website at:
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINE O'SULLIVAN IN 2005. THIS PUBLICATION
WAS PRODUCED WITH FUNDS FROM SPORT FISH RESTORATION.
REFERENCES FURNISHED UPON REQUEST
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THOMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227