Archer fish care guide

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

Representatives of this fish kind are widespread in India, Australia, Polynesia, Philippines and Thailand. 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.

Scientific NameToxotidae
Common NamesArcher fish; spinner fish
Range and habitatAsia
Sizeup to 30 cm (12 in)
Lifespan10 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size110 gallons and more
Temperature21–27 °C (70–81 °F)
Water hardness5-20 dGH


There are 9 valid species, 8 in the genus Toxotes:

  1. Protoxotes lorentzi
  2. Toxotes blythii
  3. Toxotes carpentariensis
  4. Toxotes chatareus
  5. Toxotes jaculatrix
  6. Toxotes kimberleyensis
  7. Toxotes microlepis
  8. Toxotes oligolepis
  9. Toxotes sundaicus

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). Their lifespan is up to 10 years.

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.

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.

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

Tank size

Recommended tank capacity starts from 500 liters (110 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.

Tank decor

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

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.


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.

Tank mates

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.

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.