How Are Fish Adapted to Water?

Michael Gil/CC-BY 2.0

Fish have adapted to their environment through the evolution of gills, swim bladders and fins. Gills allow fish to absorb oxygen from the water, swim bladders allow fish to maintain an appropriate level of buoyancy and fins allow the fish to move through the water. Different species exhibit specializations of these features to thrive in their own way.

Fish breathe by drawing water in their mouths and forcing it out of the body via a number of gill slits. The gill slits are rich in blood vessels, enabling the direct absorption of oxygen. While all fish have gills, some fish are also able to extract oxygen from the air via gulping.

Most fish have swim bladders that are permanently sealed, but other fish have swim bladders that can hold varying amounts of air. Salmon have open swim bladders, and they must gulp air at the surface to keep them full. Some fish, such as sharks, lack swim bladders entirely. This causes them to sink if they do not maintain forward motion.

Fish have fins that are adapted to their lifestyle. Some have evolved into long, barbed structures, suitable for defense. Other fish have fins suited for achieving great speed or for walking along the bottom of the ocean.