Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More

Salmon Parents Are Amazing!


That’s a tricky riddle, Squeaks. Can you help me with it? What animal goes by seven different names
over its life … changes color from stripey to silver to red … lives in the river and
the ocean and … what was the last clue, Squeaks? Oh yeah, and is an AWESOME parent. Hmmm … oh! Is it a salmon? That’s a good riddle, Squeaks! Salmon are amazing animals, and they have
one of the coolest life cycles — the changes they go through as they grow up and live their
lives. You know how you were a baby once, and now
you’re a kid, and someday you’ll be a teenager, and then you’ll be a grown-up? Well, salmon go by seven different names over
their lives because there are seven different stages of their life cycle. Like all fish, they start out as eggs. That’s the first thing they’re called
— an egg. In the fall, an adult female salmon lays her
eggs. Salmon usually like to lay their eggs in moving
water, like in a river or stream. The eggs stay in their safe little spot in
the river all winter, and in the spring they hatch! At this stage, the baby fish are still attached
to the yolks of their eggs for food and nutrients. This is when they get their second name: alevins. There are lots of different species of salmon,
so depending on which kind of salmon they are, the alevins spend a few weeks or a few
months close to where they hatched until they grow big enough to move onto the next stage
of their life. In a third stage of a salmon’s life, it’s
called a fry. Now it’s ready to eat real food and swim! The fry go on little adventures away from
their nest, but they don’t go very far — they stick to the stream they were born in. By the end of the summer, fry grow into the
fourth stage, when they’re called parr. Parr are kind of like teenager salmon — almost
grown up, but not quite. Parr are still really small, but they’re
getting bigger. They swim around their home stream and develop
a special design on their scales to help them blend in and stay safe from other animals
that might try to eat them. The parr continue to grow, and when they’re
ready to migrate away from their childhood home, they lose that special pattern on their
scales and become smolts. Now they’re in the fifth stage of their
lives! This is when the young salmon leave their
streams and head for bigger waters like rivers and lakes. Depending on where they are, the follow the
rivers all the way downstream to either the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean. Most salmon are born high in mountain streams,
so it takes them a long time to get to the ocean! When the smolts start their journey, they
still look a lot like parr, but by the time they get to the water that joins the ocean,
they’re big and silver to blend into their new surroundings. Now they get their sixth name of their life:
they’re adults! All different species of salmon live together
in the ocean in big groups called schools. And they can live there for a really long
time — for up to 8 years! After they’ve lived their whole adult life
in the ocean, something really amazing happens. It’s time for the salmon to have babies. This is when salmon enter their final stage
of life, when they’re known as spawning adults. Spawning means they’re about to lay or fertilize
eggs. But do you remember what we said earlier,
about where salmon eggs hatch? That’s right! Salmon are born in mountain streams! So how do the adult salmon living in the ocean
lay their eggs all the way at the tops of mountain streams? This is why Squeaks gave us the clue that
salmon are amazing parents. When salmon are ready to have babies, they
remember where they were born and make the same long journey they made when they were
smolts, only this time they do it backwards! The adult salmon leave the ocean and swim
back /up/ the rivers. They swim for hundreds of kilometers against
the current of the river. They have to jump over waterfalls and sometimes
dams. It’s a really tough trip! This is when the salmon can change from silver
to red, and some kinds of male salmon even change shape. Some of them develop lower jaws that stick
out like hooks and a big hump on their backs. After all these changes and years swimming
in big rivers, and then oceans, and then rivers again, spawning salmon return to the exact
same stream where they were born to lay and fertilize their eggs. And then the cycle of the salmon life starts
all over again. After the spawning salmon lay their eggs in
the fall, the eggs will hatch in the spring with new baby alevins! That was a great riddle, Squeaks. Salmon are SO interesting to learn about! Do you have a riddle for us, or is there an
animal’s life cycle that you want to learn more about? Grab a grown up and let us know in the comments
below! Or email us at [email protected]

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