Fish that breathe out of the water


Breathing is a vital process that occurs in all living organisms, in which gaseous exchange allows the cells of individuals to receive the energy necessary to comply with the biological processes that they require. This gaseous exchange can occur in the aquatic or terrestrial environment, the species adopting the necessary organs to fulfill this function.

In the case of fish, it is normally thought that their breathing is through gills which allow them to obtain oxygen from the water, however, there are fish where their habitat changes drastically due to weather and seasonal effects, becoming a place with abundant water to another with hardly any traces of moisture. In order to survive these changes or be in waters where the availability of oxygen is low or zero, mainly freshwater, some fish have developed abilities that allow them to walk out of the water for a long time.

In this article we will describe some fish that come out of the water to highlight the way they manage to break through without being totally submerged.

Mangrove Rivulin

First we will name the fish Kryptolebias marmoratus or better known as mangrove rivulin, this small fish and, as the name implies, lives in mangroves, when the tide is low or the area is dry, they are exposed on the earth's surface, they suffer morphological changes in their gills , which exposes them to the air in the least possible to avoid drying out and permanent damage that does not allow it to return to the water. Once it has protected its gills, the mangrove rivulin makes the gaseous exchange through the skin as if it were an amphibian, therefore, this is achieved thanks to a network of capillaries that are located very close to the surface of the skin.

These fish that come out of the water can live in the holes of the trunks, between the leaf litters and in burrows of crabs, to be able to move in the terrestrial environment they use jumps that achieve with the abrupt movement of their musculature leaning with the tail, being able to move like this from one place to another.

Walking catfish

Following the fish that come out of the water, we must name the walking catfish, which has the ability to go over the earth's surface by sliding with the help of its tail movements and also uses the pectoral fins to support and propel. To achieve this, the catfish has developed suprabranchial chambers in which they deposit oxygen that will be used during their stay on land, these suprabranchial chambers receive a large amount of oxygen because this fish has modified its gill structure, fusing its primary lamellae and shortening the secondary, which has led to the formation of secondary structures such as fans, dendritic organs and respiratory membranes, therefore they are fish that leave the water with the ability to survive for some time on land.

Mud Jumping Fish

Other fish that come out of the water, with very particular abilities, is the jumping fish of the mud, which making jumps provided by the movements of its tail and body can be mobilized and even climb up the roots of the bushes with the help of its pectoral fins and with the ventral which he uses as suction cups to stay attached to the surface.

In order to survive on land, the muddy jumping fish uses different ways for gas exchange. Important point to do this, is that you always need enough moisture to achieve it, the breathing system of this fish, when it is out of the water, in a large proportion it achieves it through the skin, it has also developed the ability to breathe through of the mucous lining of the mouth and pharynx.

All oxygen that is captured by these systems is diffusion, so it must always be in contact with water. It has also developed gill chambers that are tightly closed to preserve oxygen and allow gill functioning while on the ground. No doubt adaptation of fish that leave the water to survive when they are on land.

Climbing perches

Climbing perches constitute another group of fish that leave the water, even living in those where other fish would be made impossible by the low level of oxygen. When they leave the water, they can mobilize with the help of their pectoral fins, with which they are urged to mobilize. In order to change from one place to another, he has also developed a series of structure that allows him to live on the mainland for a few days.

First, it has a suprabranchial chamber, respiratory membranes and a special organ called a labyrinthine organ. It is this labyrinthine organ that helps you breathe the oxygen present in the air, since it is formed by bone sheets that are located in the upper part of the gills, they are also covered by a membrane with abundant superficial capillary vessels and it is in where the gas exchange occurs.

Other fish that come out of the water

There are other fish that come out of the water, for this they have maintained the structures of their ancestors, as is the case of the African dragon fish, Polypterus senegalus, which when leaving the water can use primitive lungs to capture oxygen from the air. These lungs are closely related to the swim bladder, which can fulfill the dual function.


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- Photo: Polgar G, Malavasi S, Cipolate G, Georgalas V, Clack J, Torricelli P (June 2011) / CC BY 2.5

Mud Fish

Mud Fish or periophthalmus It is one of the fish that breathe out of the water. It lives in tropical and subtropical regions, including the entire Indo-Pacific area and the African Atlantic. They can only breathe out of the water if they remain in conditions of a lot of humidity, so they are always in muddy areas, hence their name.

In addition to having gills to breathe in the water, they have a breathing system through the skin, mucous membranes and pharynx which allows them to breathe out of it too. They also have gill chambers that accumulate oxygen and help your breathing in non-aquatic spaces.

Climbing perch

It is a freshwater fish native to Asia that can measure up to 25 cm long, but what makes it so special is that it can survive outside the water up to six days whenever it is wet. During the driest times of the year, they dig in the dry beds of the streams to find moisture and survive. These fish can breathe out of the water thanks to the call labyrinth organ They have in the skull.

When the streams in which they live dry up, they have to find a new place to live and for this they travel even through the dry land. They have a slightly flattened belly, so they can lean on the ground when they leave the ponds where they live and "walk" on the ground, pushing with their fins to find another place to live.

North Snakehead Fish

This fish, whose scientific name is Channa Argus, comes from China, Russia and Korea. Have a suprabranchial organ and a bifurcated ventral aorta which allows you to breathe both air and water. Thanks to this you can survive several days out of the water in humid places. It is called the snakehead by the shape of its head, which is slightly flattened.

Senegal bichir fish

He polypterusSenegal bichir or African dragon fish is another fish that can breathe out of the water. They can measure up to 35 cm and can be propelled outdoors thanks to their pectoral fins. These fish breathe out of the water thanks some primitive lungs instead of a swim bladder which means that if they remain wet, they can live in non-aquatic environments indefinitely.

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