Can Fish Swim in Reverse? | Top 7 Fish Locomotion Types

If we look at a fish swimming peacefully in an aquarium, we can see its caudal fins wagging and pushing its body forward due to the force created. Then one thing comes into our mind, “can fish swim in reverse”?

This topic has at times attracted the attention of many fishkeepers and has led them to pay closer attention to their fish tank. The answer is yes that most fishes are able to swim in a forward as well as a reversed direction.

While reverse swimming isn’t typically seen unless you are an avid swimmer. You may have seen it in a few instances.

Today, we will look at the process behind reverse swimming, as well as other commonly observed patterns of swimming seen in fish.

Can Fish Swim in Reverse?

The question of whether or not a fish is able to swim backward is not something most fishkeepers have taken the time to take into consideration.

In all reality, there are only a handful of circumstances that, particularly out in the wild in which one would believe that a fish needs to swim backward. Moving forward is the preferred route for fish with the occasional hovering.

Can fish swim backwards? The majority of marine fish are forward, however majority of them can also swim backward.

The majority of ones that swim backward are species like the eel, which uses anguilliform (eel-like) locomotion to move their elongated bodies. Gobies are a great illustration of this.

This does not mean that fish can’t do it in reverse. In fact, I’m convinced that they can and have seen this with my own eyes. As you can see, I have a shy Frontosa Cichlid who swims backward into his cave slowly each time I walk by with his food.

However, he doesn’t perform his backward swimming in a graceful manner and I’m sure that if he had to swim backward for longer than a few inches, he’d have difficulty. However, he’s not the only fish species that can swim backward and certainly not the fastest.

Swimming in reverse is a characteristic common to numerous fish species, but the majority do not display it often. There may be one at home that swims in reverse but it could have never done this.

Most fish are able to swim in a reverse direction, based on the conditions. The majority of the time, this behavior is seen for the purpose of catching prey or food while swimming against the current of water or when fish are observing their surroundings.

Although this is typically found in my species, it is commonly observed within electric eels and other fishes which can produce an electric current.

What Kinds of Fish Can Swim Backwards?

Ostraciiform locomotion is the movement of fish, where their caudal fin oscillates from side to side in a fashion similar to moving a vessel using just one oar. Boxfish, cowfish, and trunkfish all swim in this way in order to stay clear of predators. They are quite adept at swimming backward despite this.

How Can a Fish Swim in Reverse Direction?

The reverse swimming technique is rarely seen as it requires a complete shift in the mechanism of swimming. When swimming forward, the caudal fins are most active and produce all the force needed to forward swimming. They bend their bodies from side to side consistently.

If you want to swim in the reverse direction, an entirely distinct set of fins is required. When swimming backward, pectoral fins and anal fins perform flawlessly and provide enough thrust to propel you in the reverse direction.

Swimming backward requires a lot of strength and energy, that is why it isn’t often used.

Why Backward Swimming is a Common Property in Electric Rays?

A fascinating fact concerning electric eels and other electric rays is that they are able to swim in both forward and reverse directions at the same time.

Backward swimming is a common feature among electric rays as it helps them to look around their environment.

The eels as well as other electric rays generate high-intensity current to kill their prey as well as predators, while low voltage current is required to communicate and navigate.

They travel around their predator in every direction and produce low voltage currents to recognize their targets.

This is how all electric rays and eels approach their prey, and so swimming both in direction of forward and reverse is normal for them.

How Does Eels Swim Reverse?

They have a distinct mode of locomotion known as “Anguilliform locomotion”. This kind of locomotion in fishes is unique to the eels. During this motion, they can move their entire flexible body simultaneously.

Their movements are sigmoid. It is also known as (sinuous) and encompasses their entire body. The majority of this movement involves both pectoral and anal fins moving against the flow.

Why Do Eels and Other Fishes Need to Swim Reverse?

Fish like eels or electric rays need to sense their surroundings and keep their mouths open to catch their prey, so the fishes must swim backward.

They typically release low voltage currents to sense their surroundings. Then, after securing the prey they reverse their movement and their mouths are right behind the animal. Once they’re in the place, they create high-voltage currents and shock their prey.

Therefore, electric eels must move in the opposite direction in order to efficiently devour their prey, otherwise, they’ll be unable to catch their prey.

Is There any Electric Fish That Can’t Swim in Backward Direction?

As we’ve stated that all-electric rays and eels possess the ability to swim backward however there is one exception. This South American fish, “Rhabdolichops troscheli” is among the species capable of producing electric charges however, it is not able to move backward.

The reason Rhabdolichops cannot swim in the reverse direction is due to the fact that they reside in zones with strong currents and could be suffocated should they stop swimming forward for even a brief period of time.

How Long a Fish Can Swim in Reverse Direction?

Can Fish Swim Backwards
Can Fish Swim in Reverse?

It’s difficult to imagine that fish could go backward for a long time, so whether they could or cannot be a moot issue. But, to be curious we’ll look into the issue.

The primary concern is whether a fish is able to swim backward or not, and it’s evident that the majority of fishes are able to swim backward. The question now is how long fish will be able to swim backward.

Backward swimming is a challenge and requires experience and skill. If you are able to swim backward for long enough, it could be fatal for fish as they could die from inhalation. The fish’s respiratory system functions in a way that oxygenated water flows through its mouth, it is released through the gills.

The water in this pool is the oxygen source and aids in getting rid of waste as well as carbon dioxide. In a reverse swim, it is important to avoid the flow of water through the gills isn’t proper and can cause hypoxia. In this way, fish could be suffocated, and swimming in reverse shouldn’t be done for long.

I’m sure you’ve seen stories about sharks getting pulled out of the water and dying in the process. This is not only cruel, but it’s also false too.

A shark that was pulled back through the water will not drown, but rather collapse because it’s extremely difficult to breathe.

The reason that sharks have difficulty breathing is due to the fact that the water must flow through its gills in a proper direction for it to do so.

This is done by the flow of water from the mouth to the gills. Reversely pulling them backward reverses this process making it very difficult for them to breathe.

The interesting thing is that when you catch big fish like tuna or marlin, fishermen are used to pulling back the fish to wear them out. They have compared this experience with the fish wearing an altitude mask, and then working out hard. You’re still breathing however it’s tougher.

What Are the Harms in Swimming Reverse?

While the majority of fish species are able to reverse swim, why isn’t it demonstrated by fish?

The reason for this is because swimming backward consumes energy which can lead to the fact that fish swim slow and they are unable to keep up the speed.

In addition, reverse swimming may result in the deaths of fish when prolonged. There is a possibility that they may have difficulties getting the water out. The result is the death of the fish and suffocation.

What Fish Cannot Swim Backwards?

However, reverse swimming is a common trait of all fish and it’s adjusted to the environment in which they live. But there’s one fish that cannot show reverse swimming, and it’s “Sharks”. They are the one fish that cannot reverse swim.

This is due to their pectoral fins cannot be bent upwards like a fish can. Sharks are unfortunately restricted to only forward motion but they can also utilize gravity to sink back a bit.

Nothing to do with sharks. It’s simply FYI sharks are also unable to simply stop in order to stay clear of hitting something. Instead, they must move to the side to avoid a collision.

Strange, really, when you consider sharks are predators of the highest order, which means would be the ability to swim or move but they do have limitations.

There’s also some discussion regarding the capability to swim backward in seahorses, Razorfish, and shrimp fish. They all swim vertically. The same is true for larger fish like Marlin or Tuna, or Arowana.

Sharks are amazing creatures that display a myriad of traits however, they aren’t able to do reverse swims. The idea of pulling sharks back and killing them is due to their ability to swim backward. are unable to endure the reverse swim as they are suffocated and die in the trap.

Why Sharks Have Movement Limited to Forwarding Direction?

It’s been stated that sharks aren’t able to swim in reverse, but why are they not doing so.

  • Sharks have a restricted set of motions; they are unable to swim backward or forward, and they are unable to stop in the event there is an obstruction.
  • The pectoral fins (those involved in backward swimming) cannot bend in the direction they want in order to generate enough thrust to allow them to swim backward.
  • Additionally, breathing is impaired when swimming backward and can cause death for sharks due to suffocation.
  • Sharks are able to move down into deep depths of water, and then return to the surface in a short time, thus making use of gravity to assist in their movements.

Are There Any Other Forms of Swimming Seen in Fishes?

In addition to regular swimming in the forward direction using force generated by the caudal fins in fish, they can exhibit a range of locomotion.

However, it is not true that all fish are able to swim using anguilliform locomotion nor are proficient in swimming backward as electric fish or eels tend to be. There are other forms of fish locomotion that are described below.

Fish Locomotion Types: These are the categories that are most often seen in locomotion in marine creatures.

  • Anguilliform Locomotion:

Eel-like sinuous movement of the entire body. The flexible body moves to create a shape of an S.

They are seen in eels as well as other electric rays.

  • Carangiform Locomotion:

Carangiform locomotion is the term used to describe the movements that originate from the posterior part of the fish. This implies that only the rear part of the body is flexed by the passage of waves of contraction when in carangiform locomotion.

Fish that swim primarily using carangiform locomotion are Jacks, Pompanos, Mackerel runners, and scads.

It is not necessarily connected to fish swimming backward, however, interesting nonetheless carangiform locomotion is believed as the best and most effective technique for swimming. It is because of the way that the majority of fish that are the fastest and most active fish move.

The motion can be supported by the back end of the body, which generates the force required and pushes the entire body forward.

It is seen in fishes that have fusiform body shapes like fish-like rays, jacks, and pompanos, with a rapidly rotating tail end.

  • Sub-carangiform Locomotion:

Sub-carangiform locomotion is utilized by trout and other fish which typically have a more rigid body and greater speed.

It creates an increase in the amplitude of waves throughout the body and the majority of the work is completed from its rear.

A subtype of carangiform movements with a greater frequency, speed frequency, and speed of oscillation.

In a carangiform movement, the back side of the body assists this type of movement.

Commonly seen in trouts.

  • Rajiform Locomotion:

The force of the large is emitted through pectoral fins in the vertical direction. This undulating pattern seen in rays and skates is an illustration of the rajiform locomotion.

  • Gymnotiform Locomotion:

Waves are formed by the vertical thrust created from anal fins.

American knife fish have long bodies and display this kind of locomotion.

  • Thunniform Locomotion:

Thunniform locomotion is utilized by the fish group which includes high-speed as well as long-distance swimmers, such as tuna, as well as a few lamnid sharks.

The majority of motion, sideways, is in the tail area and the region which is located there, also known by the peduncle. These fish’s tails tend to be massive and crescent-shaped.

  • Ostraciiform Locomotion:

Ostraciiform locomotion refers to the motion of fish in that just the caudal fin oscillates from side to side in a way like a boat moving using a single oar.

Boxfish, cowfish, as well as trunkfish, are swimming in this way, mostly to avoid predators and they’re surprisingly good at swimming backward, despite this.

Which Underwater Creature Can Swim in Vertical Direction?

Alongside forward and reverse swimming, certain groups of fish also exhibit horizontal (up or downward) swimming. One of the well-known marine creatures often observed swimming in a horizontal direction are “Seahorses”.

Alongside seahorses, prawns, as well as tuna Arowana and razor fishes, are observed swimming in a peaceful manner in the vertical direction.

How To Treat a Fish Swimming in Circles Constantly?

If you’re a fish lover You may have noticed your goldfish swimming in circles but still not breaking their cycle.

Most of the time this swimming style suggests that your fish may be suffering from “Ammonia Poisoning”. The cause of this poisoning is the rapid growth of nitrates and nitrites within the aquarium.


  1. Stop Their Process of Feeding:
    If we can reduce the amount of waste produced it will mean that there are no additional nitrates present in tanks for fish and their concentration will drop.
  2. Small But Frequent Water Changes:
    Be aware that the only way to solve this problem is to make water changes. Be sure to make sure to change only 10-15 percent of your daily water consumption.
  3. Try to Avoid Large Water Changes:
    The large water changes, like changing 40-50% of your water can cause an immediate decrease in the nitrate levels, which could put your fish in a state of nitrate shock.
  4. Use a Good Quality Water Pump:
    The proper aeration of your tank is essential to the health of your fish. In this situation, ensure to utilize a high-quality water pump that can provide sufficient oxygen to the tank.
  5. Monitor the Tank Water Regularly:
    Examine the parameters of water like pH and temperature, as well as levels of nitrate, and hardness regularly and maintain them at the right level.
  6. Start Feeding Again:
    Examine the levels of ammonia in your tank. Once you have reached the level of the baseline, you can begin feeding your fish.


What to Do If Your Fish is Swimming Upside Down?

Sprinkle some aquarium salt (one teaspoon for every gallon) to ease the stress on the fish. You can purchase aquarium salt on the internet or in pet fish stores. Consider a specific swimming bladder treatment. Consider treatment for bacteria like API Melafix.

Can a Fish Flip?

It’s been discovered that fish move all over the place in a variety of ways that are not swimming. Apart from leaping, they can glide, squiggle or even flip their tails and perform a variety of somersaults from the sky.

Which Fish Can Swim Backward and Forward?

In contrast to other fish that utilize their entire body for swimming, the triggerfish generally navigate using just their fins on the top and bottom. They are highly mobile, meaning they can swim forward and backward and hover as if they were a UFO.

Can Salmon Swim Backwards?

Many fish are able to swim in reverse. Eels are the most famous for this. Anadromous species like shad and salmon, are found in the ocean and swim through rivers to reproduce. They are known to return to the place where they were born.

Do Shrimps Swim Backwards?

Like fish, shrimp don’t have fins that allow them to swim, however, they are able to move within the water. Shrimp “swims” by quickly pulling the abdomen toward their carapace (body). The movement propels it through the water. However, their body shape, indicates that shrimp swim backward.

Can a Whale Swim Backwards?

Yes, whales are capable of swimming in reverse.

Can Koi Swim Backwards?

Koi fish are able to swim backward. However, their swimming backward behavior could be a sign of a variety of conditions, like stress, shyness or poor quality of water, or even parasites.

Can Dolphins Swim Backwards?

Dolphins stand out due to their amazing ability to swim fast in reverse, forward, or upside down. Their speedy swimming allows them to avoid predators, while various locations aid in their feeding.

Can Fish Swim Backwards? (Summary)

Fishes are smart creatures and display a variety of impressive characteristics. One of these traits includes their capability to swim in a reverse direction.

Can fish swim in reverse? Yes, fishes swim backward, and they show this ability in situations of extreme need, for example, hunting or looking at their surroundings. Fishes also exhibit various forms of locomotion according to their habitat and body types.

It seems that almost all fish, with the exception of sharks, can swim backward when they have to or decide to.

It’s hard to believe because it makes breathing more difficult and exhausts them that they’d choose to do this often.

It is more likely that swimming backward is done for reasons of necessity like to avoid predators or in the case of electric fish that are catching them.

Furthermore, when your fish’s swimming patterns are erratic, it may be indicative of other issues. We’ll discuss these irregular motions and the reasons behind them more thoroughly in the future.

If you enjoyed this piece, you could enjoy one of our humorous and informative articles such as: Can fish see in the darkness? And Are fish born with hearts?


Dibyajyoti Bordoloi is the creator and author of, a third-generation experienced fish keeper and owner of a successful pet breeding farm. He is also a member of the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation And Conservation (Assam), the Marine Aquarium Societies of North East India, and the Kaziranga Nature Conservancy of Assam.