How do you play with a fish? Do fish like toys?

Here’s the truth:

We can all admit to thinking at least once about whether we can play with our fish or not.

And as absurd as it may sound, it’s actually possible. And quite important too.

Playing with your fish is a very fun activity. In fact, you can even teach them a few cool tricks.

But how do we do that? And why is it important to play with a fish?

Read on below to find the answer to these questions.

Benefits Of Playing With Your Fish

Most people underestimate the importance and benefit of providing some sort of stimulation to your fish. This is mostly because most people assume fish to be dumb. However, multiple studies have proved that they’re actually much smarter than we think.

As per a report by BBC, fishes tend to have the ability to make allies with other fish with whom they hunt together. Not only this, but fish living in coral areas with rocky environments proved to be better hunters. Apart from that, another study showed that fish that lived in a stimulating environment with plenty of pebbles, plants, and toys showed to be cleverer than those who were raised in a dull environment.

10 Tricks to Play with a Fish (Video)

How To Play With Your Fish

Although there are plenty of ways to play with your fish, we can divide them into two parts. One is through toys and tank ornaments, and the other is physically playing with them.

Now, most fish would prefer tank ornaments and would get frightened from getting too close to a human. In this case, you can place different tank ornaments around your tank that would keep your fish happy. But there are some species, especially the bettas, which can be trained to play with humans as well. Here is a list of ways you can entertain any kind of fish through both physical entertainment and ornaments:

Physical Entertainment

Many might not know, but it’s actually possible to physically play with your fish. You can teach them different tricks, feed them with your hand, and much more. However, not all fish will be comfortable or will engage this way with humans, so, be vary. One particular species which is known to interact with humans is the Betta. So, if you’ve got one, you can play as well as train them, but it’s preferable not to try this with any other fish as they might become distressed. Here are some of the best ways to play with your fish:

1. Training them to jump out of a hoop: Perhaps the most amazing of all tricks is teaching your fish how to jump through a hoop. However, you should note that this trick is most successful with bettas. Here’s how to do it.

Build or buy a small hoop and place it in the water. Attract the attention of your fish by hanging some bait on the other side of the hoop. Try to get them to swim through the hoop, and slowly raise the height of the hoop each time they do so. Gradually, bring the hoop higher near the surface and then even higher till it’s a few centimetres above the water surface.

If you do this consistently and with patience, you can even get your fish to jump out of the water. Despite this, be careful with feeding your fish too many treats or bait and making them sick. Also, it’s quite unlikely that any fish other than bettas will learn how to jump out of the water.

2. Feeding them out of your hand: Feeding a fish out of your hands is something you might have never imagined, but with bettas, it’s quite possible. Bettas are particularly comfortable with human contact and can be trained to eat out of your hand. You should start off by feeding them just above the surface level. Make sure that they can see you, and they’ll begin getting close to your hand.

Slowly, you can start placing your fingers slightly underwater and letting them eat out of your hand. You can even get them to jump out of the water a little bit if you hold some live bait just slightly above the water level!

3. Laser Pointer: If you thought only cats can play with laser pointers, you’re wrong. Try shining a laser at your aquarium, and watch how your fish frantically chases after it. This is especially fun with bettas, as they tend to be very curious and love these kinds of games.

4. Doodling on the tank: This is yet another fun activity that you can try out with your fish. Doodle anything on their tank with a dry marker of bright colour and watch. When your fish will see these, they’re likely to come near them and explore and often swim around it. This is especially useful if you’ve got only a few fish in your tank, and there’s not much for them to do. Plus, you can erase your doodling anytime and start over again.

Ornaments and Toys

Here are some of the reasons why tank ornaments and toys might be a better option for you:

  • If you’ve got a busy schedule
  • You own delicate species of fish
  • You don’t want to spend your time training them

If that’s you, then toys and tank ornaments are probably the way to go. There are many different types of toys and tank decorations that can engage your fish in different ways. Here’s a list of a few of our favourites:

1. Plastic Plants: These are some of the most common and yet the best kinds of ornaments for multiple reasons. One is that they provide your fish with a more home-like environment, especially to coral species, thus reducing their stress levels. Second, fishes use these plants to sleep or hide from bigger fish in the tank, making them feel more secure.

Apart from that, plants will trigger your fish’s curiosity and keep them happy and entertained. Plus, plastic plants are easy to clean and can be easily found in just about any aquarium shop or pet shop. Just make sure you don’t place so many that it prevents your fish from swimming around freely.

2. Rocks and Caves: Rock ornaments are the second most common type of ornament for fish and one that most love. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as shipwrecks, castles, or just simple caves. Placing these inside your aquarium will not only give your fish to explore and play with these ornaments, but most fish will use the caves to hide inside and sleep in. So not only will this keep them entertained, but also make them feel safe.

3. Floating Toys: Although most fish would be very happy with only tank ornaments, some species will actually prefer playing around with toys. This behaviour is especially common with the betta fish that enjoys spending time near the surface.

Floating toys such as floating balls or a floating log can act as the perfect toy for more playful species. Bettas will love playing and even sleeping in the log, and will often bump the balls with their nose. Just make sure you leave some space at the surface and don’t completely cover it with floating balls.

4. Mirrors: Just placing a small mirror inside the tank can be quite an entertainment for both you and your fish. Fish that are particularly territorial, such as the betta, often respond to seeing themselves in the mirror by flaring up and investigating their reflection. You can place any small piece of mirror and watch their activity levels shoot right up. However, you should be careful as to not letting the mirror set for too long, as it can often stress out the fish when they sense a threat to their territory.

Environmental Impact On Fish

Alongside playing with your fish, it’s also vital to know that in order to keep your fish happy, providing them the optimal environment is usually more important. Fish usually don’t experience emotions and feelings as strong as other larger vertebrates. However, the environment and atmosphere they live in is still the most significant factor which directly impacts their health and behaviour.

To explain this, let’s take the example of a few species. The Betta are naturally solitary fish and don’t usually prefer company, especially in a small tank. If you do introduce another male, they’ll probably fight until one of them is dead. That’s how territorial they are. But if you introduce a female betta, the male will try to persuade her into mating, and if she refuses, he’ll drive her away.

But compare that to species like tetras and rasboras, they’re schooling fish by nature. They prefer to be a part of a group, so keeping them in a solitary environment can often stress them out and cause them to act abnormally. This situation is often aggravated if these species don’t have a hiding place, such as a bark or stone cave. And if there are larger, predatory fish lurking around the aquarium.

More than that, the water condition of the aquarium is even more critical than the environment. Regular water changes, proper filtration, nitrate and nitrite levels, water temperature, water hardness, all are very important factors when it comes to the health and well-being of your fish. Thus, playing with your fish won’t do your fish any good if they are living in a threatening environment, poor water conditions, or worse, both.


Swimming fish are a very relaxing sight to watch, but there are a lot more ways you can interact with them. Playing with your fish not only keeps them happy but also is a fun activity and something you can impress your friends or guests with.

Similarly, along with playing, it’s important to keep your aquarium in pristine condition and make it a hospitable environment for your fish. This will not only improve their health but also enable them to live longer.

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