Can Fish See in the Dark?

Yes, fish can see in the dark! Fish eyes have dense, spherical lenses. This enhances peripheral vision and lets in more light for visibility.

The degree of visibility in the dark varies among species. It’s affected by factors like water, depth, and cleanliness. Some fish rely on their lateral line to sense their surroundings.

Did you know that fish and humans share some interesting similarities regarding the eyes?

Both have retinas with photoreceptor cells – rods and cones. But fish have an abundance of these photoreceptor cells.

Rods change the pitch-black surrounding into gray. Thus, they can see in both bright and dim lights.

The eyes of both fish and humans have lenses, outer cornea, and adjustable iris. But fish have a spherical lens, which is an advantage in low light. Instead of moving their lens, they shift it around to focus.

Some fish can see colors like reds, greens, and blues. They can spot ultraviolet light and polarized rays.

Now, if you’re curious about the details of fish sight, let’s dig in.

How do fish see in the dark?

Some fish can change their eyesight from bright light to darkness. Their rods, cones, and dark pigment granules work together for this. It takes about 30-60 minutes for this adjustment.

Few fish species like the following have an excellent night vision:

  • Walleyes have remarkable night vision, utilizing minimal light for clear sight.
  • Salmons showcase advanced vision with adaptable chromophores for navigating light and dark environments.
  • Sharks boast eyesight ten times stronger underwater than humans, thanks to a reflective tissue layer called tapetum lucidum.

However, this isn’t the case for most species. So, let’s find out more here…

Lateral Line System: Sensory Adaptation for Dark

Lateral line system in a fish diagram

While some fish species have great night vision, not all of them can “see” clearly in the dark. However, they seamlessly navigate through the dark with the help of their lateral line system.

This consists of rows of small sensory organs called neuromasts along their bodies, acting like a built-in radar.

These organs are sensitive to changes in water pressure, which lets fish “feel” their surroundings – that is, any kind of movement or even vibrations.

The lateral line helps them find prey, avoid predators, and navigate even in total darkness. It is like a unique built-in GPS-like system.

Nocturnal fish – adapted to low-light conditions, actively explore and feed in darkness – gravely depend on the lateral line to sense their surroundings accurately.

Here are some species that use their lateral line:

  • Goldfish: They rely on their darker lateral lines as a sixth sense for orientation.
  • Guppies: Their lateral line changes shape in the presence of predators. They’re completely blind in pitch dark. So, they need some light to be able to see.
  • Electric Eels: They locate prey with the electroreceptors from the lateral line organ on their head.
  • Betta Fish: They have limited night vision and display visible lateral lines curving from the head to the tail.

Note: When not in total darkness, bettas rely on their unique eye mechanisms for survival. Their dual-chambered eyes and 360-degree vision help them adapt to low-light environments.

Their monocular expertise – utilizing each eye independently for simultaneous observation of different objects – enhances their situational awareness. They can monitor a wide area for potential threats and prey.

Other Adaptations

Some tropical fish have evolved an electrical organ, specifically in their tail fins, to help them find food. This adaptation highlights the variety of sensory tools fish use beyond vision.

What is the Fish Vision at Different Depths?

Fish in different ocean depths have unique adaptations for their vision.

Surface-dwelling epipelagic fish, such as herring and tuna, rely on vision for hunting but struggle in low light.

Mesopelagic fish, found in depths of 200-1000 meters, like lantern fish, have large eyes and upward-facing vision to detect prey against dim celestial light.

The bathypelagic zone fish, exceeding 1000 meters, lacks light, leading fish to rely on smell and sound. Remarkably, bioluminescent species like the anglerfish illuminate their dark surroundings.

Which fish have better night vision – Saltwater or Freshwater?

Both freshwater and saltwater fish rely more on smell and vibrations from large distances.

But saltwater fish live in expansive open waters. Their sight is useful only when they’re near prey, and there’s an obvious color difference from the background.

On the other hand, freshwater fish, when near prey, can notice them even in dirty and murky low-light water.

This shows that freshwater fish have better eyesight than saltwater fish.

What are the Different Light Conditions & Color Visibility?

Freshwater and marine fish eyes have rods, cones, and pigment granules that let them perceive varied colors in standard underwater lighting.

Deep-sea fish, on the other hand, lack genes for color-sensitive cones, and there’s no light in their surroundings. But it’s found that their rod cells evolved unique opsins, which distinguish bioluminescent colors in the dark.

For example, the deep sea fish, silver spinyfin, can see colors like blue, green, and yellow.

What is the Importance of Darkness for Aquarium Fish?

A consistent light-dark cycle helps your aquarium fish align with their circadian rhythms. After a light period, darkness serves as a cue to rest for diurnal fish and to feed and become more active for nocturnal fish.

If you’re curious about how to light your aquarium, here are some easy aquarium lighting tips:

  • The best option is to mimic the lighting of the natural habitat of the fish.
  • On average, aquarium lights should be on for about 12-16 hours and off for 12-18 hours. But this varies depending on the specific fish species’ sensitivity to light changes.
  • Consider lighting needs for plants and corals. They need light for food.
  • Avoid intense or long periods of light. It stresses fish, compromises their immune systems, and leads to unwanted algae growth.
  • Avoid direct sunlight as it causes algae growth, hinders plant photosynthesis, and causes temperature fluctuations.
  • If you want to observe fish at night, don’t use the aquarium light. Instead, use a focused beam from a torchlight for short durations. However, don’t do it repeatedly to avoid stressing the fish.

How to choose the right Color of Light for fish?

Red light can disrupt fish and plant behavior. Blue and green light align well with their natural inclinations. Some fish prefer dim light or darkness for a stress-free environment.

Optimal lighting, like RGB Spectrum with red, green, and blue lights, creates a perfect ambiance.

Can you have Complete Darkness in Aquarium?

Unlike deep-sea species, aquarium fish can’t survive comfortably in pitch-dark conditions. It may limit their nutritional sources. They may also be cautious and stressed from sudden total darkness.

A word from FishInAquarium

Each fish species has unique ways of navigating low-light conditions. They use their vision and sensations to survive in the wild. When in captivity, their lighting needs depend on their natural habitat and adaptations.

With this knowledge of fish vision in the dark, you can take better care of your fish’s lighting needs and create the best environment for them!

If you found this exploration insightful, feel free to share the article. However, if you need any support, don’t hesitate to reach out via email.

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.