Fun Smelt Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Jan 19, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta
Smelt Facts are interesting.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.0 Min

Smelt fish is a species of fish that are generally small in size. These species are very common and can be found in most parts of the world including the continent of North America.

The tiny adipose fin on the dorsal of their body, above the ventrals (instead of the front), and their slender body, make it extremely easy to identify these fishes. They have extremely different and shiny skin, which is one of the most eye-striking features of a smelt.

Spawning is the process of laying eggs on water. This process (spawning) happens mostly from February to June when the temperature of the water is between 4-10 degrees Celsius. One fish can produce around 20,000-80,000 smelt eggs (smelt roe). Most eggs that hatch die before adulthood, during the process of maturing.

The term 'smelt' is generally referred to fish populations that are very different from one another. One characteristic that brings all species of smelt together is their small and elongated bodies.

Although they are narrow and long, their scales are very beautiful and have a silver element. A smelt caught from rivers and streams is very popular in different kinds of cuisines around the world. So, keep on reading for more facts about this unique species of fish commonly inhabiting rivers and streams.

If you like reading more such interesting facts about animals, do check out beluga sturgeon and wolffish.

Smelt Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a smelt?

Smelt is a type of fish.

What class of animal does a smelt belong to?

A smelt belongs to the class of a fish.

How many smelts are there in the world?

There are innumerable smelts around the world, the exact number of which is not known.

Where does a smelt live?

A smelt lives in the ocean or a freshwater river, lakes, and other water bodies like streams.

What is a smelt's habitat?

Each species of smelt fish belongs to a different habitat. Some fishes like to change their habitats frequently, while the rest wants to stick to their original habitat.

Most species like to live along with the freshwater while others who live in the ocean go back to freshwater only to breed. The rainbow smelt is a small fish that lives in estuaries and offshore waters, and spawn in shallow. They are found in North America, Northeast Asia, Europe, the Northern Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans mostly.

Who do smelts live with?

Like most other fish, smelt fishes like to stay in large groups of their own.

How long does a smelt live?

Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), which is one of the important smelt species lives for about a year only. Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) on the other hand can live for about six years.

How do they reproduce?

Smelt fish breed through spawning. Spawning is a process when a female fish releases eggs, and the male ones fertilize them outside of the body.

The larger the fish, the more eggs it can produce. One fish can lay thousands of eggs.

Although the hatching time for species differs, none of them receives any kind of parental care. The egg provides food to the developing embryo, which helps it develop faster. This is particularly different in lakes and oceans where the eggs are smaller but more in number.

The process of hatching takes place when the larva is in a less developed form and does not resemble any of the adults. Some smelt fishes may die after spawning, but those who survive to move to freshwater and spend their summers along the coast.

What is their conservation status?

The smelt fish is mostly threatened by human beings who overfish sometimes from rivers and streams, disturbing the ecological balance. A lot of aquatic animals including smelts are threatened because of the rising pollution.

Due to pollution, a large number of animals consume micro-plastics, sometimes even the poisonous water becomes a reason for their death. Large water bodies like the pacific are getting polluted, which has majorly affected these animals.

The Delta smelt is is Critically Endangered according to the IUCN, mostly because of smelt fishing. However, the official status of other species is still listed as Least Concern.

Smelt Fun Facts

What do smelts look like?

You can easily distinguish between a smelt and other common fish. A smelt has a slender body, large mouth, tiny eyes, adipose fin, and a sharp tail. Their skin is shiny and has a silver touch on its scales.

Fun Smelt Facts For Kids

*Please note, this is an image of sardines that look similar to smelt. If you have an image of smelt, let us know at

How cute are they?

Some may find the smelt fishes to be really cute. Their silvery skin and tiny eyes make them cute to look at.

How do they communicate?

Like all other fishes, smelt communicates through a number of ways such as gestures, motions, electrical pulses, smell, or even bioluminescence. Fish uses sound to communicate too. Although these sounds are not audible to human beings, the presence of water makes it travel to a larger distance. Fish at certain times urinate to send their message to the receiver.

How big is a smelt?

Smelt is a small fish, they are about three times the size of a shrimp. However, the size of each species varies according to various factors.

How fast can a smelt swim?

Different species of smelt can swim at different speeds. However, rainbow smelt are poor swimmers and can hardly make it overfishing ladders. The Delta smelt on the other hand is faster than a lot of small fish species.

How much does a smelt weigh?

The weight of every species of smelt varies based on its size. However, an average smelt weighs about 1-6 oz (28-170 g). They are extremely thin and small species of fish, the bodyweight for most of which is derived from its length.

What are their male and female names of the species?

Smelt does not have separate names for its male and female species. But there are different species of smelt, for example, rainbow smelt,  delta smelt, pond smelts, lake smelt, freshwater smelt, Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), and many more.

What would you call a baby smelt?

There is no specific name for a baby smelt, however, all baby fishes are called fry.

What do they eat?

Like other animals, the diet of a smelt differs according to its area of origin. Each species of smelt have different prey, but all of them feed on similar kind of animals.

The rainbow smelt, for instance, preys on shrimps, whereas capelin feeds on a krill. Both of these are small but different animals. The most common food for smelt fishes are shrimps, fish eggs, fish larvae, and krill.

Are they eaten by humans?

Yes, a lot of humans love to eat smelt because of its taste and additional health benefits (such as smelt fish nutrition). Because of their thin body and flavorful skin a lot of people like to eat it fresh or deep fry it to make it crispier.

Apart from this, they are also used to commercially manufacture fertilizer, fishmeal, and fish oil, all of which are considered to be of extremely good quality.

Would they make a good pet?

The smelt fish has none of the qualities of being an aquarium-friendly fish. This is not only because they are carnivores, because each species require a different kind of ambiance which might not be possible inside a home. So, they cannot make good pets.

Did you know...

A smelt has an extremely large mouth with teeth on its tongue.

The American smelt, which is a schooling fish, migrate to freshwaters after growing and maturing in coastal waters. They also have the ability to produce an antifreeze chemical that helps them in dealing with colder climates. Although not much is known about it, they are said to have a specific pattern for antifreeze production.

People often confuse smelt with sardine fish. Although both are species of small fish with similar-looking skin, both are very different in terms of taste and even lifestyle. Both smelt and sardine are food for a large number of people.

Eggs in freshwater are heavier which is why they sink. After sinking it sticks on the ground in grass, pebbles, or anything it finds. The eggs of a European smelt hatch in 8-27 days, approximately, based on a number of factors such as the temperature of the water body.

Smelt species of fishes are known to be anadromous in nature. They migrate to streams from oceans to spawn.

What else can smelt be used for?

Smelt are harvested commercially for use in the manufacturing of fishmeal, fertilizer, and fish oil and some are so oily that they can be dried and used as candles.

Where is the smelt capital of the world?

Kelso, in the state of Washington, was declared as the 'Smelt Capital of the World' by the Chamber of Commerce in 1956.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish including black dragonfish, or monkfish.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our smelt coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Deeti Gupta picture

Deeti GuptaBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

A detail-oriented fact-checker with a research-oriented approach. Devika has a passion for creative writing, she has been published on multiple digital publishing platforms and editorials before joining the Kidadl team. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from St.Xavier's College, Deeti has won several accolades and writing competitions throughout her academic career.

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