If you have ever seen a flat, brown flounder that camouflages itself perfectly, you can’t help but wonder why Ariel’s best friend – the little round yellow and blue fish – is called Flounder. He looks pretty much like the exact opposite of a flounder if you ask me. So I did a bit of research to find out what kind of fish Flounder from the Little Mermaid really is.
Flounder from The Little Mermaid is most likely an angelfish or a similar tropical reef fish. It is not known which exact fish species Disney used as inspiration for the character of Flounder, but he is definitely not a flounder or a guppy.
So let’s have a closer look at the flounders, guppies, anglefishes and some other options.
What kind of fish is Flounder?
Disney did not specify what kind of fish flounder is. To be honest, we don’t even know if Flounder has real counterparts out there in the ocean, given that Disney like to mix up ideas to create their own fictional world.
[Here you can read more about which influences might tell us in which country Ariel the Little Mermaid is set.]
There are, however, always elements that show what influenced Disney’s creations. And it seems that flounder might have been inspired by some fish species that are really out there.
There are two fish species that look very similar to Flounder. Flounder is a round, bright yellow fish with blue stripes and fins. Intense colors like that can only be found in tropical fish.
These fish could be Flounder’s real live relatives:
- Yellow tang
- Convict tang
- Royal angelfish
- Emperor angelfish
All of them are tropical fish that mostly live in coral reefs. Let’s have a look at them.
Is Flounder a tang?
Flounder’s most prominent features are his bright yellow color and his stripes. These features can be found in the yellow and the convict tang.
The yellow Hawaiian tang has one of the prettiest yellow colors in the ocean, which looks very much like Flounder’s color.
They can reach about 8 inches (20,3 cm) in length.
The only problem is that the yellow tangs don’t have any blue strips like Flounder.
The convict tang is a relative of the yellow tang and they actually have stripes – just like a convict’s clothes. The stripes do in fact look very similar to Flounder’s because they are vertical and they start at the top and don’t reach all the way down to their bellies.
They can grow up to about 8 inches long (20,3 cm).
The only thing that doesn’t really fit is the colors: they aren’t very yellow at all and their stripes have more of a gray color than blue.
Is Flounder an angelfish?
Another kind of tropical fish that looks very similar to Flounder is the angelfish. There are two species in particular, that might just be his siblings – two very royal siblings that is: the royal angelfish and the emperor angelfish.
The royal angelfish (also called regal angelfish) looks strikingly similar to Flounder. They have an intense yellow color with blue and gray vertical stripes.
They can grow up to 10 inches (25,4 cm) long.
If they had fewer and no gray stripes and all fins were blue, they would be pretty much indistinguishable. At least color and pattern-wise.
But what about the body and face shape? The tangs and the royal angelfish all don’t quite capture the cute expression that Flounder has. But there is one fish that has just that.
The emperor angelfish has the same cute baby face as Flounder. It also has the same yellow color as the yellow tang and the royal angelfish, but it has horizontal instead of vertical stripes. Flounder’s stripes are vertical though.
They can get quite big, the adults are about 15 inches (38,1 cm) in length. So size-wise all four of the fish would be of a similar size as Flounder is in the movies when you compare him to Ariel.
However, I think that with the fins detracted the tangs might be a bit smaller than Flounder was in the movies. The two angelfish could be pretty much the same size as him though.
Since they don’t only have the right size but also look more similar to Flounder, the probability that Disney used angelfish as an inspiration for Flounder is quite high.
Is Flounder from The Little Mermaid a guppy?
Some people do however think that Flounder is a guppy. But is that even possible?
Flounder is not a guppy because he is not that small and he has stripes, which guppies do not have. Guppies are tiny fish, they only grow 0.6–2.4 inches long (1.5–6 cm). If Flounder was the size of a guppy he would be as small as Ariel’s pinky or even smaller!
The idea that Flounder might be a guppy probably came up because Ariel calls him a guppy in the movie. When she sneaks to the sunken ship on the ground of the sea to see if she can find some human treasures, she takes Flounder with her.
But he is scared and tells Ariel there might be sharks around. Ariel replies saying “Flounder, don’t be such a guppy“.
You can click on the video to watch that scene (at 0:18 min).
Flounder replies “I’m not a guppy!”. Why would he say that if he were a guppy? I mean, you wouldn’t say “I’m not a human” either would you (unless you’re a mermaid)?
The word “guppy” seems to be more of a metaphorical word for someone who is scared. Basically like the underwater version of a “scaredy-cat”. Because of how tiny guppies are, it might also refer to small baby fish, which would result in a meaning similar to “don’t be such a baby“.
Guppies are tiny fish, that are often held as pets. They are also called millionfish or rainbow fish and live in tropical regions all over the world. Since they are so tiny and are quick to hide, Disney might have made that meaning up.
Why Flounder is not a flounder
Real flounders are a flatfish species that have evolved to live at the bottom of oceans and sometimes even rivers. There they camouflage themselves with their brown muddy color that looks just like the ocean floor.
As you can see, they have a completely different appearance compared to Ariel’s friend Flounder. Most importantly, they are not colorful.
Their eyes are also different than in most other fish. They are both on one side of their face – the side that faces upwards, so they can see what is happening above them.
Why is Flounder called Flounder if he is not a flounder?
There is only one explanation for how Flounder got his name: it doesn’t have anything to do with his bilogical fish family but with his character.
The word “to flounder” means to be clumsy in the water (or mud) or to move awkwardly as well as to be in a difficult situation or struggle with something as if you lost your balance for a while.
You can literally say “Flounder floundered around in the water” which would basically mean that Flounder is a pretty clumsy fish, even in the water.
This name actually fits his anxious character quite well. He gets scared easily. For example in that scene where he and Ariel sneak into the shipwreck, he is very worried that there might be a shark around.
Furthermore, he is very clumsy indeed! In the same scene, he gets stuck in the ship’s bull’s-eye, then he gets scared by a skeleton and jumps against the walls of the ship making the wood fall down. When the shark is after him he then bumps his head on a pole.
You can watch the video again to see what I mean. He is basically a cute fish in a china shop. So his name actually makes a lot of sense after all.