Archer fish (lat. Toxotidae) belongs to ray-finned fishes of monotypic family Toxotidae, that in order to feed spray water in the air or on the ground to shoot down insects and then eat them. The droplets hit so hard that insects fall into water, where they are quickly eaten by the fish. It seems that the fish faultlessly knows where its prey falls and goes there fast before other fish gets it or it will be carried away by the water flow. Besides, archer fish similar to silver arowana can jump out of water to catch its prey, though not very high, just at its body length.
Habitat in the wild
Archer fish are primarily found in the brackish waters and estuaries of Southeast Asia. They can be found in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The fish inhabits freshwater (mainly lentic waters), mangrove, it can get into open sea where its water is freshened by rivers. This fish prefers shadowed areas with vegetation hanging low above the water. Archer fish inhabit estuaries, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and other brackish water ecosystems. Brackish water is a mixture of freshwater and saltwater, typically found where rivers meet the ocean. These environments provide the ideal conditions for archer fish to thrive.
Archer fish are adapted to live in brackish water with varying salinity levels. They can tolerate a wide range of salinity, from nearly freshwater to slightly salty conditions. These fish are well-suited to environments where freshwater and saltwater mix, and they have developed physiological adaptations to regulate their internal salt balance.
Archer fish prefer habitats with dense vegetation, such as mangroves and freshwater streams. The vegetation provides shelter, nesting sites, and hunting opportunities. Mangroves are particularly important as they offer a complex network of roots and branches that archer fish can use as perches to spot prey.
The genus Toxotes belongs to the archer fish family (Toxotidae) and includes several species known for their unique hunting behavior. Each species has its own unique distribution range and subtle variations in physical characteristics, but they all belong to the fascinating group of archer fish. Here are the some species within the genus Toxotes:
- Toxotes chatareus (Archer Fish): This is the most well-known and widely recognized species of the genus Toxotes. It is found in Southeast Asia and has a silver or greenish coloration. Archer fish are highly skilled at shooting down prey with a precise stream of water.
- Toxotes jaculatrix (Banded Archerfish): Also known as the banded archerfish, it is found in coastal areas and rivers of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. It has distinct black bands across its body, and like other archer fish, it hunts by spitting water at insects above the water’s surface.
- Toxotes lorentzi (Lorentz’s Archerfish): This species is endemic to Papua New Guinea and is named after the Lorentz River. It has a silver or greenish body with vertical dark bands. Lorentz’s archerfish displays similar hunting behavior as other species in the genus Toxotes.
- Toxotes microlepis (Small-scale Archerfish): Found in rivers and estuaries of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the small-scale archerfish has a silver body with small scales. It possesses the characteristic ability to shoot down prey with water jets.
- Toxotes oligolepis (Big scale archerfish): Endemic to the rivers and streams of Indonesia, particularly Sumatra and Borneo, the dwarf archerfish is the smallest species in the genus Toxotes. It has a silvery body with a black stripe running along its side and exhibits the typical archer fish hunting behavior.
Fish of this kind have body flattened from sides and a bit protrusive mandible. The body has bright silver coloring with 5-6 vertical stripes/spots. Due to its large eyes the fish can find insects that are above water, for example, when they are sitting on a tree leave not far from the water surface.
How do archerfish get food?
These species within the genus Toxotes share common traits such as their ability to shoot down prey with water jets and their preference for brackish water or freshwater habitats. Archer fish is known for its sharp shooting, because it almost always hits the target. The fish ‘shoots’ for a distance 1-2 meters long depending on the fish size (the lager is the fish, the farther it ‘shoots’).
This fish becomes able to spray water when it is only 2.5 cm long. To ‘shoot’ its prey archer fish freezes near the water surface directly under its target and with an abrupt movement of its gill covers the fish directs water trough a small groove in the roof of its mouth and squirts a jet of water or some droplets depending on the position of its tongue.
The amount of squirted water depends on the prey size and the fish can repeat it several times. Fish can even jump out of water to catch its victim, if it’s not high above water, but squirting water is less energy consuming.
This kind of fish swims in small flocks, that’s why it rapidly catches its prey when it falls into water to act faster than its relatives. 90 % of its food fish finds in water like other fishes and when this isn’t enough is starts ‘shooting’ into everything that looks as food to it.
How big do archer fish get?
It’s important to note that there are variations within the genus Toxotes, and different species may have slightly different size ranges. Some species, like Toxotes chatareus (Archer Fish), are known to reach larger sizes within the typical range, while others, like Toxotes oligolepis (Big scale archerfish), are smaller in comparison.
The adult archer fish species grow to be about 30 cm (12 in) long. In a tank fish size is a bit smaller 12–18 cm (5–7 in). However, the exact size can vary among species and individual fish. Some factors that may influence the size of archer fish include the species, age, and environmental conditions.
Additionally, female archer fish tend to be larger than males in some species. The size of archer fish can also be influenced by factors such as food availability, habitat conditions, and genetic factors.
Overall, when considering archer fish, it is common to find individuals ranging from 10 to 20 centimeters in length, but specific species and individual variations can lead to different sizes within that range.
How long do archerfish live?
The lifespan of archer fish can vary depending on various factors, including the species, environmental conditions, and individual health. Generally, archer fish have a lifespan ranging from 5 to 10 years in the wild.
However, it’s important to note that specific species within the genus Toxotes may have different lifespans. Factors such as habitat quality, availability of food sources, predation pressure, and overall stress levels can influence the longevity of individual archer fish.
In captivity, where they are provided with optimal conditions and care, archer fish can potentially live longer than their wild counterparts. With proper nutrition, appropriate tank size, and a suitable environment, archer fish in captivity may have extended lifespans compared to those in the wild.
|Scientific Name||Toxotidae (family)|
|Size||Typically 10-20 centimeters (4-8 inches) in length|
|Body Shape||Sleek and elongated|
|Coloration||Silvery or greenish|
|Eye Placement||Eyes positioned on the top of the head|
|Hunting Technique||Shoots a powerful jet of water to knock down prey|
|Prey||Insects, spiders, and small invertebrates above the water|
|Habitat||Brackish waters, estuaries, mangrove swamps, and lagoons|
|Geographic Range||Southeast Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, etc.)|
|Water Preference||Brackish water, but can adapt to freshwater in some species|
|Social Behavior||Often found in small groups; exhibit cooperative hunting|
|Communication||Visual displays and specific body movements|
|Adaptations||Precise water-jet aiming, adjustments for distance and refraction|
|Reproduction||External fertilization, eggs released into water|
|Lifespan||Varies by species; typically 5-10 years|
|Temperature||25-30 degrees Celsius (77-86 degrees Fahrenheit)|
|pH Range||6.5-8.0 (tolerant of slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions)|
|Water Hardness||Moderate to slightly hard water (around 8-12 dH)|
|Conservation Status||Varies by species; some are of least concern, others data deficient|
Difficulties in keeping
This fish is recommended to experienced aquarists. Archer fish are difficult to feed, since they instinctively look for food out of the tank, though in time they get used to feed in ordinary way like all tank fishes.
The adult fish species require brackish water with stable parameters. Another problem is that the fish prefers live food and they like catching its prey themselves. Correspondingly, it a tank with fish there should be low water level and enough of free space above it.
As a rule the owners design such a tank as paludarium. In a tank of this kind the fish look more natural, it is more appealing and it is easier to feed the fish there just by putting insects on plants that grow above the tank water.
Care and keeping in a tank
Recommended tank capacity starts from 250 liters (55 gallons) for several adult fish species, because this is quite large fish that prefers a company of its kind. To create optimal tank conditions it is advisable to keep the water level about several dozens of centimeters lower than tank top. This will allow the fish to ‘shoot’ its prey.
It is acceptable to keep the fish both in aquarium and paludarium. The latter is more preferable in terms of natural way of the fish feeding. In case when you have a paludarium, create some vegetation hanging over the tank water and put future prey of archer fish there.
The tank lid should be safe (electrics may get wet) and always closed, since the fish can jump out of water.
The water flow in a tank should be of minimal power. The lighting can be bright or moderate depending on the tank plants you put. You can put any kind of tank bottom substrate, since fish swims close to water surface and it’s not crucial for it. Lots of snags can be put into the tank as decorations.
Water parameters: 21–27 °C (70–81 °F), pH 6.0-7.5, 5-20 dGH. Tank water should be brackish with salt concentration up to 15 grams per 1 liter of water. The fish juveniles successfully live in fresh water, though there are cases when adult fish species also dwell in fresh water for quite a long time.
Archer fish have a carnivorous diet and primarily feed on insects and small invertebrates. Their unique hunting behavior involves shooting down prey located above the water’s surface using a powerful jet of water. In the wild archer fish feeds on flies, spiders, mosquitoes and other insects, which they shoot down from the plants. Except this they eat juveniles, small fishes and larvae. In a tank fish eats live food, juveniles and small fishes.
The most challenging thing is to train the fish to eat sinking artificial food in a tank. However, the most interesting is to observe the natural way of the fish feeding. Actually, this is why aquarists keep this quite demanding fish.
To make the fish feed in its natural way aquarists resort to cunning, for example, they put crickets, flies or stick some food above water. At that the food should be high enough, otherwise the fish will just jump out of the water.
It is easier to do this in paludarium, but if you don’t have a chance to create it, you can choose the simple way of feeding the fish. Take a rod or something long and put there a cricket or other insect and put the rod above the tank water surface.
Even if the archer fish misses its target, the insect will fall into the water and the fish will eat it. In general if your archer fish has got used to feed under water or from the surface, it won’t be a problem to feed it.
Here’s a more detailed overview of the archer fish diet:
- Insects: Archer fish are known to prey on a variety of insects, including flies, beetles, mosquitoes, and other small flying insects that come within their range. They have excellent aim and can accurately shoot down insects perched on vegetation or flying close to the water’s surface.
- Spiders: Archer fish may also feed on spiders that are within their reach. If a spider is located above the water and is close enough for the archer fish to target, it can become a potential prey item.
- Small Invertebrates: Apart from insects and spiders, archer fish also consume small invertebrates such as crustaceans, aquatic insects, and other small creatures that inhabit the brackish water or freshwater ecosystems they inhabit.
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When considering tank mates for archer fish, it’s important to keep in mind their unique hunting behavior, water preferences, and compatibility with other fish species. In general this is a peaceful and calm fish, which by the way can eat its smaller sized tank mates. Due to special conditions of the archer fish keeping, the range of compatible fish species is quite limited. Fishes capable to stand high water salinity will be a good choice in this case. But, usually, they are small sized and fish may treat them as food.
When selecting tank mates for archer fish, it is important to consider their specific needs and behaviors. Here’s a table suggesting some potential tank mates that can coexist with archer fish:
|Potential Tank Mates||Compatibility Description|
|Banded Scats||Peaceful, brackish water fish that can coexist with archer fish. They have a similar water preference and are known to inhabit the same habitats in the wild.|
|Gobies||Many goby species can thrive in brackish water and are generally peaceful. They are small and won’t compete for food with the archer fish. However, ensure that the specific goby species selected is compatible with the archer fish’s needs.|
|Monos||Monos are schooling fish found in brackish water and have similar water parameter requirements as archer fish. They can be compatible tank mates if provided with appropriate tank size and suitable social dynamics.|
|Mollies||Brackish water mollies are hardy fish that can tolerate similar water conditions as archer fish. They are generally peaceful and can coexist with archer fish if provided with adequate space and hiding spots.|
|Knight Gobies||Knight gobies are brackish water fish known for their interesting behavior and compatibility with archer fish. They have a similar tolerance for salinity and can coexist if given enough space and hiding places.|
|Columbian Shark Catfish||Columbian shark catfish, also known as catfish shark or blackfin shark, can be compatible with archer fish in larger aquariums. They prefer brackish water and can coexist if there is enough space and hiding spots for all tank inhabitants.|
|Mudskippers||Mudskippers are unique brackish water fish that can live in partially submerged and terrestrial environments. While they have different behavior than archer fish, they can coexist in larger tanks with appropriate setup and conditions.|
Are archerfish aggressive?
Archer fish are not known for aggressive behavior toward other fish species. They are generally compatible with a variety of tank mates, especially those that share similar water conditions and temperaments.
In general, archer fish tend to be relatively peaceful toward conspecifics (members of the same species). They often form small groups or schools in the wild and cooperate during hunting. However, territorial disputes and aggression may occur between individuals if they are overcrowded or if there is limited space for establishing territories within the tank. Intraspecies relations of fish species are based on domination of a stronger fish species. It is desirable to keep a group of at least 4-5 fish species. If there are less of them, the fish tends to demonstrate aggression.
Gender differences: male vs female
Gender dimorphism isn’t pronounced. It is unknown how to tell between the fish male and female.
Fsh is bred in fish hatcheries or caught in the wild. Since it is impossible to distinguish between the fish male and female, they are kept in large schools. There was no reliable information recorded about fish breeding in home aquaria.