Like their fine feathered friends, fishes build nests too. Check out these fish who nest with the best of them!


Hoping to attract the ladies, male cichlid (Lamprologus callipterus) industriously hoard empty snail shells in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. Bigger is better, as females prefer to release their eggs in large shells collected by large males.


Three-spined sticklebacks males spend hours moving around mouthfuls of sand and collecting mouthfuls of algae. Sticky mucus (complete with an antibacterial protein called spiggin) secreted from the males’ kidneys glues together the gathered algae to form hobbit hole-like nests—sometimes, sticklebacks with an eye for design add a red accent at the nest’s entrance to catch a female’s attention.
Bluehead chub do some heavy lifting of their own, moving thousands of rocks to nest-building sites in freshwater streams. As the rocks start to pile up, females take notice and deposit their eggs into the safety of the rocky mounds. Chub nests are popular places—more than 30 other species of fishes also spawn in their boulder homes!


Perhaps most elegant and artistic of all fish nests is that of a pufferfish from the Tetraodontidae family. These meter-wide underwater crop circles are crafted by a single male no larger than your hand. Days of vigorous tail shimmying, pectoral fin flipping, and an eye for symmetry produces a sandy castle fit for a fish queen.


Written by Natalie Sopinka and illustrated by Bethann Garramon Merkle.

Natalie Sopinka recently finished her PhD at the University of British Columbia studying what happens to salmon babies when their mom is stressed out. While she embarks on new fishy adventures you can find her on Twitter at @phishdoc and her poems at Phish Doc.

Bethann Garramon Merkle believes science and sustainability matter—her passion is communicating why. Tap into her capacity to help you blend word craft and images by visiting or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Check our facts: 1 Sato, T. 1994: Active accumulation of spawning substrate: a determinant of extreme polygyny in a shell-brooding cichlid fish. Animal Behaviour 48: 669-678. 2 Mann, M.E. and M. Taborsky. 2008: Sexual conflict over breeding substrate causes female expulsionand offspring loss in a cichlid fish. Behavioral Ecology 19: 302-308. 3 Little, T.J., M. Perutz, M. Palmer, C. Crossan and V.A. Braithwaite. 2008: Male three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus make antibiotic nests: a novel form of parental protection? Journal of Fish Biology 73: 2380-2389. 4 Ӧstlund-Nilsson, S. and M. Holmlund. 2003: The artistic three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteous aculeatus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 53: 214-220. 5 Peoples, N. 2012: Bluehead chubs construct nests and welcome guests. The Fisheries Blog 6 Pufferfish ‘crop circles’. Courtship, BBC Life Story. Episode 5, released November 2014 7 Kawase, H., Y. Okata, and K. Ito. 2013: Role of huge geometric circular structures in the reproduction of a marine pufferfish. Scientific Reports 3: 2106.


Image use: Single use, non-transferrable, limited to use on Additional desired uses shall be negotiated prior to use.