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Mudskipper, The walking fish

Updated on September 11, 2015

Mudskippers are a quite impressive species of fish. They are literally walking fish and give us important hints about the evolutionary steps that eventually brought us out of the oceans. There’s a diversity of mudskippers breeds, but most of them share the same peculiar and awesome traits that makes them famous.

The mudskipper is usually olive-brown colored, although some species are covered with blue markings. Their length can go from 4 to 12 inches long, and their pectoral fins are large and elongated, protruding from the body wall. This weird setup creates a division, setting two fins with independent muscle sets. These highly modified pectoral fins have evolved to serve as legs; instead of swimming like most fish, they use them to hop while they are on land.

One unique and astounding organ in these little fish is their eyes. These fishes have their eyes mounted on top of their heads, and each of them can move independently giving them a fantastic panoramic view, inside and outside of the water. Their eyes are guarded by a thin and clear layer of skin; since they do not possess tears ducts to keep their eyes moist, they constantly roll them into their sockets as a form of protection and to keep them wet.

But how can the mudskipper survive long periods of time outside the water? Mudskippers are able to extract the environment oxygen from multiple parts of their bodies. Don’t be mistaken, they breathe through gills like every other fish, but their superb respiratory system allows them to absorb a large amount of oxygen trough their skin.

When they come out of the water, they fill their special pouches with liquid. This way, they store all the water they need to keep their gills hydrated and lubricated. Who said a fish needed an ocean to survive? However, mudskippers need to keep their mouths and skin hydrated, in order to diffuse the oxygen with water so they can absorb it and continue to be the restless little fish that we know.

Their diet is based mostly on small creatures, such as insects, sand worms, brine shrimp, and small crustaceans.

Mudskippers are known for being restless and dynamic. Spending most of their time outside the water, they feed and interact with other mudskippers, for example, to defend their territories. They inhabit earth and underwater areas found in the Indo-Pacific, from Africa to Polynesia and Australia, but they are especially fond of swamps, lagoons, and rivers estuaries. They usually spend most of their time on land, thanks to their amazing ability to stay out of the water for almost three-quarters of the daytime. The only time they need to go underwater is when they need to refill their storage gills.

When mating season arrives, male mudskippers do not stay put, and to be true, who would? They perform what appear to be push-ups, leaps and flips in the air and even stand on their tails. Literally anything in their power in order to capture the female’s attention. The males also become more aggressive, defying other males with biting and raising their dorsal fins. Then, if the female likes what she sees, she does her own series of signs to let the male know she´s available. After mating, she enters into the male’s lair where she lays her eggs in a special part the male previously built for her. Soon after, the male fertilizes the eggs and takes care of the offspring.

If you happen to plan a visit to exotic places, such as the Moremi Game Reserve in Africa, or some of Australia’s Coral Coast, be on the lookout for these amazing little fish, and who knows? You might even discover more exciting things about these little but feisty animals.

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