Aquarium - the habitats

Do Fish Live in Trees

Immerse yourself in an underwater world of freshwater fish. The Aquarium will take visitors on a round-the-world journey through ten of the planet’s most extreme and fascinating aquatic habitats, from a vibrant flooded forest in Brazil, to an African puddle! Discover more about our new exhibit: 


Flooded Forest 

Can fish live in trees? 

Every year the Amazon River floods, spilling billions of litres of water into the heart of the rainforest and bringing fish with it. Far from being a natural disaster, this flooding is essential to the survival of both fish and forest. The river itself has very few nutrients, so many fish rely on eating the fruit, seeds and even wood that the flooded forest provides. In turn these seed-eating fish spread the trees’ seeds far and wide.

Spot amazing species like the fantastically-named chocolate rhinoceros suckermouth catfish and the sickle-backed brycon, which can leap out of water! 


Turbulent stream 

Fish don't always swim 

To avoid getting washed away by rapids, these loaches use their fins as ‘suction cups’ to cling onto rocks. Instead of swimming they mostly crawl along the bottom and eat by scraping algae and insect larvae from the rocks they hold onto.

Look out for our spotted hillstream loach. Males perform fluttering deplays to impress felames and sometimes fight for the best feeding spots by pushing their bellies together! 


How can a fish live in a puddle? 

The Sainthouse’s killifish spend their whole lives in a single large puddle! When the puddle evaporates the eggs survive in the cool, muddy ground, where they slowly develop and then rest for many weeks. When the rains return the eggs hatch within minutes, into the next generation of amazing puddle fish.

Look out for the killifish named after Ian Sainthouse, a ZSL volunteer. These fish live their whole lives in a single year - they become adults in just 17 days! 

Sainthouse's killfish


Fish have feelings! 

These beautiful rainbowfish sometimes change colour depending on their mood. The brighter and more colourful they are, the better they’re feeling. They also use their spectacular colours and patterns to show off to potential mates. Males are often more colourful than females and put on dazzling displays using their extended flashy fins.



Fish out of water 

When the mangroves seasonally dry up these killifish can get stranded on muddy land. Clinging to trees or waddling around on their bellies they can survive up to 66 days out of water, breathing air through their skin. Lying on their side they can even launch themselves into the air to land on their insect prey.


Clear-water spring

Fighting for water 

The Greek killifish is in danger of disappearing forever. In the 1920s mosquito fish were introduced to the rivers. The mosquito fish have many live babies which easily outcompete the egg-laying native fish. This competition along with pesticide use and water drainage now means the Greek killifish is critically endangered. ZSL is working to bring this species back from the brink. We partner with local people to protect and monitor their existing habitats, and have been moving some populations to new, safer locations.


Desert spring 

Fish in a desert?

You’re looking at one of the last remaining populations of La Palma pupfish, a species that is now Extinct in the Wild. These extreme survivors lived in a tiny desert spring in Mexico. They survived intense sunshine and temperature changes, but not the effect of humans - in 1996 their spring dried up due to overuse for agriculture. Now, ZSL is breeding this fish to learn from this amazing species and ensure its survival.


Underwater caves in the Middle East 

Life in the dark 

These fish have no need for eyes, colours or scales. They live in pitch-black caves and have adapted to the darkness. Even though these fish are born with eyes they slowly close over as they grow. Instead of sight they find their way around by pulsing water from their mouths and feeling for the waves that bounce back to detect their surroundings.

Omani blind cave fish

Amboaboa river (Madagascar) 

How do you help a fish? 

Fantastic fish in Madagascar are in trouble. Many rivers on the island are drying up as forests are chopped down and more water gets used to grow crops. The smaller, remaining rivers mean native fish are struggling to survive. ZSL is working with local communities in Madagascar to monitor rivers and build back-up populations. Together we’re finding ways to ensure a future for these fish and the livelihoods of the local people.

Threatened rivers of Magascar tank in the Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo


Large and ancient lake in Africa

Can fish be good parents? 

Almost all the cichlid fish in Lake Tanganyika can only be found living in this single lake. Their home is teeming with competitors and predators, so these fish go to extreme lengths to ensure the survival of their young. One mother fish stops eating for a month while she carries her 5-20 eggs in her mouth. Even after they hatch, she continues to carry the small baby fry in her mouth for protection.

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Spotted hillstream loach

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