Mosquitofish are a thing, find out more on TikTok

Forty seconds is all Tanja Zerulla needed to explain her biology research to thousands of people — some scientists but most not.

She’s built a following of nearly 16,000 people on TikTok, the wildly popular video-sharing app. She doesn’t show off her mad dance skills or funny tutorials on how to convert a truck bed into a kiddie pool. Her account, TalksToFish, showcases science. Lots of it. And her followers love it.

Zerulla describes herself as Disney princess meets Nigel Thornberry (that’s the adventure-seeking narrator of Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys for any of you born before 1990). She initially created a 40-second TikTok video where she explained her research on mosquitofish.

On her account, TikTok users can also find videos of orphaned wild animals adopted and raised by humans including Jessica the Hippo and Jabulani the Elephant. They can learn more about the Amazon and how it needs our help. And she’s willing to get a little personal, offering insight into the life of a biology Ph.D. student who is researching fish behavior.

Under the guidance of her advisor Phillip Stoddard, Zerulla studies a spunky fish species called eastern mosquitofish. While typically silver in color, a small portion of eastern mosquitofish have black spots. These rare spotted fish are known as mottled fish. They not only look different, they also behave differently. Zerulla’s research suggests that mottled fish respond differently to social cues than silver fish, potentially making them a viable animal model to study social information processing disorders, like autism, in humans.

Earlier this year, Zerulla competed in FIU’s Three Minute Thesis Competition – a competition in which participants presented their research in three minutes or less in a way the general public could understand.

With a little help from her lucky fish earrings and her ability to communicate science effectively, Zerulla made it to the final round and eventually won the competition and the People’s Choice Award.


Y’all asked for ##morefish so here’s me explaining my ##fish ##research like ##olaf’s recap in ##frozen2. I’m at stage AAAH ##fishkids ##fishcontent ##PhDlife

♬ original sound – talkstofish

She’s also using her channel to share resources. Many students don’t know they can access academic articles for free. Zerulla created a video sharing tips on how to get this information through sources such as university or public libraries, Google Scholars and even the author of the paper itself.

“Any and all science communication is important – even on TikTok,” Zerulla replied to a fellow TikToker.

The first-generation college student never imagined her passion for science would lead her to where she is today, communicating science in a new innovative way.

After encouragement from her professors, colleagues and a visiting speaker who specializes in science communication, Zerulla added TikTok to her resume.


Zerulla hopes to continue her research as a post-doctoral associate and eventually as a research professor, encouraging and mentoring students along the way.

To keep up with Zerulla’s research on fish behavior, follow her TikTok account @talkstofish.

Jessica Rodriguez contributed to this article.