Mudskippers-Fish Out of Water

By Kathy Kranking

Funny little fishes called mudskippers are right at home on shore!

Tap image for a closer view.

With their googly eyes and leg-like fins, mudskippers don’t look like your typical fish. And as you’re about to discover, they don’t act much like typical fish, either!

Mudskippers live in flat, muddy areas along the coasts of Africa, Asia, and Australia. There are more than 30 species of them, and they can each be as small as a few inches or as long as this page is tall. But the coolest thing about mudskippers is that they spend a lot of their lives on land!

If a normal fish were on land, it would just lie there, gasping for air. But mudskippers aren’t normal fishes! They can breathe both in and out of water. And they have special fins that work as legs, so they can “skip” across the mud to get around. What a fish story!

Tap image for a closer view.

Double Lives
Mudskippers are well built for living part of their lives on land. When in the water, they breathe with gills, as other fish do. But on land, they’re able to breathe through their skin and through the linings of their mouths and throats. They need to keep their skin moist to be able to breathe. So, as they are walking along, they often stop and roll in the mud to dampen their skin.

Getting Around
To move along, a mudskipper uses its leggy fins as crutches: It moves both of them forward, then pulls its body after. And mudskippers can use their fins and tails to climb and even jump!

During low tide, mudskippers move around the mud looking for food such as worms, insects, crabs, snails, and other small creatures. Their eyes move independently of each other, and they can see better on land than in the water. While the fish are looking for food, they have to also look out for predators. Shorebirds, snakes, and some mammals all enjoy a mudskipper meal.

VIDEO: WATCH MUDSKIPPERS IN ACTION!

Muddy Mouthfuls
To help stay safe from enemies, some species of mudskippers dig themselves burrows to hide in. How would a fish manage to make a burrow in the mud? By using its mouth as a shovel!

The mudskipper grabs a mouthful of mud, spits it out nearby, then goes back for more. Taking mouthful after muddy mouthful, it digs itself a burrow that can be up to two feet deep. Some mudskippers also build walls around their burrows to show other mudskippers that they aren’t welcome. These fishes don’t like neighbors trespassing on their “turf,” and fights over territory can be fierce. Raising their fins and holding their mouths open, two males will wrestle and jump at each other until one backs down and leaves.

Fishy Show-Offs
During mating season, male mudskippers try to attract females by showing off: flaring their fins, doing “push-ups” and “tail-stands,” and leaping or flipping into the air. If a female is interested, she’ll lay her eggs in a male’s burrow. After that, the male takes care of the eggs until they hatch. (In species that don’t make burrows, females lay their eggs in the water.)

Mudskipper eggs hatch during high tide, when the burrows are underwater. The young spend their early lives drifting in the waves. Then, when the time is right, they crawl onto shore to begin their own lives as fish out of water!

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