Flatfishes generally lie on the bottom on their blind side. They can be found either on top of the sediments or partially buried under a fine layer of sand or silt with only their eyes protruding above the sediments. Many flatfishes are stationary for long periods of time. When swimming above the bottom, they use a "pleuronectiform" swimming mode, in which waves of muscle contraction are passed along the body, beginning in the anterior region and continuing posteriorly. Most species can utilize a more rapid escape response, where the caudal fin is brought into play, creating a powerful and speedy swimming response.

Surprisingly little is known concerning the social organization of most flatfish species. Flatfishes are non-schooling species; many occur as solitary individuals, but a few and perhaps many individuals may congregate in a general area. Males of some species may display aggressive behavior to one another during the mating season. The majority of flatfish species are diurnally active. Some species are active throughout the daytime, whereas others have peak activity at or around sunrise and sunset. Nocturnal activity is a major adaptation evident in the Soleidae, Achiridae, and Cynoglossidae.

Extensive migration patterns have been well documented for some commercially important species of northern temperate flatfishes, such as the plaice, summer flounder, and halibuts. For most flatfishes, in particular the many tropical species, little is known concerning their movements or migrations. Small, reef-associated species probably have limited home ranges and do not engage in any seasonal migrations.

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