Quick facts

Common names: salmon, Atlantic salmon

Scientific name: Salmo salar

Family: Salmonidae (salmons)

Habitat: lakes

Diet: insects when young, small fish when adult

Predators: trout, birds of prey

Origin: native

What do Atlantic salmon look like?

The Atlantic salmon is a large fish, growing to 75cm long by around two years old. They are blue-silver in colour with black dots on the back. Some have a slight pink tone to the underside.

What do Atlantic salmon eat?

Juveniles feed on insects, invertebrates and sometimes plankton. Adult fish feed on small fish, predominantly capelin.

Underwater close up of a female Atlantic salmon in a river

Credit: Linda Pitkin / naturepl.com

How do Atlantic salmon breed?

Atlantic salmon hatch in freshwater breeding grounds, developing for several years before migrating out to sea where they will spend most of their lives. When the time comes to breed, salmon return to the breeding grounds they were born in, travelling upstream. When they reach their destination, females lay eggs in grooves in the waterbed and males deposit sperm to fertilise them. The fish die soon after breeding.

Did you know?

Salmon can leap over huge obstacles blocking their way. There are records of an Atlantic salmon jumping over a three-metre obstacle.

Where to find Atlantic salmon

Look out for Atlantic salmon in very clean rivers in Scotland, Wales and North and South West England.

Atlantic salmon male about to land into a frothy river after leaping over an obstacle

Credit: Malcolm Hunt / Alamy Stock Photo

Signs and spotting tips

If you’re lucky, you might spot salmon leaping over obstacles like waterfalls to get to their breeding grounds.

Threats and conservation

Atlantic salmon is a priority conservation species and currently considered to be under threat. Wild populations are low due to factors like pollution, habitat loss and over-fishing.