Guardians of the Mud! (10 Surprising Facts About Mudskippers)

Mudfish, often overlooked and underestimated, are fascinating creatures that hide remarkable secrets beneath their slimy exterior. Found in freshwater habitats around the world, these enigmatic fish possess a unique ability to survive in the most extreme conditions.

In this article, we will delve into the surprising facts about mudfish that will leave you astounded and eager to learn more about these extraordinary aquatic beings.

From their astounding longevity to their astonishing ability to breathe air, prepare yourself for an enlightening journey into the captivating world of mudfish.

Surprising Facts About Mudskippers

10 Surprising Facts About Mudskippers

1. Specialized Skin

Mudskippers are a unique type of fish that spend a portion of their day living out of the water. Unlike most fish, they can breathe air through specialized skin and by gulping air into their mouth, which is lined with blood vessels.

Mudskippers need to take care not to dry out in the sun, and they keep their skin cool and moist by rolling in the mud or retreating underground.

Mudskippers can breathe through their skin, similar to amphibians, thanks to an extensive network of blood capillaries that absorb oxygen.

They can breathe in different ways, using their gills and specialized tissues to absorb oxygen from air when out of water. They also absorb oxygen through their skin in and out of water.

2. Suction Cup Type Pelvic Fin

Mudskippers come from a different evolutionary line of fish with floppier webbed fins. They have pelvic fins on the bottom fused to form a suction cup (dermal cup), allowing them to hold onto surfaces and even climb.

The tail can spring into action to help propel the body forward when the going gets rough or when extra speed is needed.

They employs a movement called “crutching,” where it props itself up with its pelvic fins and pulls itself forward with its pectoral fins while dragging its motionless tail.

They move with speed and agility over muddy substrate using their pelvic fins as crutches and their pectoral fins to row the body forward.

3. Hydro Tongue

Mudskippers swallow food on land using water stored in their mouth parts, creating a kind of “hydro tongue” to help transport the food back towards their stomachs.

Mudskippers eat on land and use their pharyngeal jaws, essentially a second set of jaws found in their throats, to help swallow prey.

4. Retractable Rotating Eyeballs on Top of the Head

Mudskippers have eyes perched on the top of their heads to keep a lookout for both friends and foes. They have large, frog-like eyeballs that move independently, providing them with excellent vision both above and below the water’s surface.

Unlike most aquatic fish, mudskippers have good vision on land, which helps them avoid predators. Mudskippers can blink their eyes by lowering them into their eyelids.

Their rotating retractable eyeballs allow them to see in all directions and move their eyes independently of each other.

5. Produce Vocal Sounds

Mudskippers can produce vocal sounds, which are more like screams, pops, or gurgling noises. They use these sounds to communicate with each other and defend their territory.

Winter can be challenging for temperate-living mudskippers, with up to 80% of those born in any given year dying due to frigid temperatures and limited food.

Mudskippers can catapult themselves up to 2 ft (60 cm) into the air and can climb onto branches.

They communicate with each other using not just visual displays but also auditory messages, often telling each other to “get off my lawn!”

6. Maintaining a Tunnel

Some species of mudskippers are skilled at digging burrows in the soft mud, where they release air bubbles to increase oxygen levels.

Some smaller species of mudskippers dig tunnels down into the mud to stay cool and moist.

Maintaining the tunnels and burrows can be a burden due to the constant flooding by the tides.

7. Defend their Territory Strongly

Mudskippers are known for their tenacious defense of their territory. These fascinating amphibious fish, found in coastal areas of tropical and subtropical regions, exhibit a remarkable ability to survive both in water and on land.

While they may seem small and unassuming, they possess a fierce determination to protect their space. When another mudskipper encroaches upon their territory, a battle of sorts ensues.

The defending mudskipper will puff out its gill chambers, making itself appear larger and more intimidating. It may also use aggressive body posturing and vocalizations to ward off the intruder.

In some cases, physical skirmishes occur, with both mudskippers grappling and pushing each other to assert dominance.

Mudskippers employ various strategies to maintain their territory. They dig burrows in the mud or sand, which serve as their homes and bases of operation.

These burrows also act as shelters from predators and harsh environmental conditions. Defending the burrow becomes a matter of survival, as losing it could mean losing access to essential resources and protection.

Their territorial behavior is essential for their survival and breeding success. Maintaining exclusive access to a suitable habitat ensures a steady supply of food and opportunities to attract mates for reproduction.

Finding a mate on land is challenging for mudskippers. To attract a mate, mudskippers jump high above the mud. Mudskippers are fish that spend most of their life out of the sea.

When laying eggs, the male and female retreat into the burrow and place the eggs in an air-filled chamber since the surrounding water lacks oxygen.

When it’s hatching time, the male gulps the air out of the chamber, and the mudskipper babies hatch and swim up to the surface.

8. Amphibious Fish- Walk on Land and Breathe Air

Mudskippers are amphibious fish known for their unique ability to live out of water. They are adapted to muddy intertidal regions that regularly drain and flood.

They are incredible creatures with remarkable adaptations that allow them to move and breathe on land, making them truly unique among fish.

Unlike most fish species that rely solely on water for survival, mudskippers have developed specialized physiological and behavioral traits to venture onto land.

They possess well-developed pectoral fins that act like legs, enabling them to walk, hop, and even climb on various surfaces such as mudflats, roots, rocks, sandy shores, and mangrove forests.

Their ability to breathe air is another exceptional feature. Mudskippers have a modified gill system that allows them to extract oxygen directly from the air.

When they are out of the water, they close their gill slits to prevent dehydration and instead use their mouth to draw in air for respiration.

These adaptations have given mudskippers a competitive advantage in their coastal habitats. By venturing onto land, they can access food sources like insects, small crustaceans, and plant material that may not be available in the water alone.

Furthermore, being able to escape predators by moving onto land has increased their survival chances.

Their behavior on land is quite fascinating to observe. They use their pectoral fins to push themselves forward, and their movements often resemble the “skipping” motion from which they get their name.

It’s important to note that despite their terrestrial abilities, mudskippers still need to return to water periodically. They lay their eggs in burrows that flood during high tide, ensuring the survival of their offspring in the aquatic environment.

9. Jump & Climb of Tree

Mudskippers are not only skilled walkers on land but are also capable of impressive jumps and climbs, including climbing on trees in some cases.

Their strong pectoral fins, which they use for walking and hopping, also play a significant role in their jumping ability.

When faced with obstacles or predators on land, mudskippers can perform quick and powerful jumps to escape danger or reach higher ground.

This ability to leap allows them to access new areas with better resources and avoid potential threats. As for climbing on trees, while not all mudskipper species exhibit this behavior, some have been observed climbing vegetation and mangrove roots.

Their robust pectoral fins and strong grip help them hold onto various surfaces, making it possible for them to ascend tree roots or tangled vegetation in their coastal habitats.

10. Habitat, Size & Distribution

They can breathe both in and out of water and inhabit tropical and subtropical coasts and estuaries throughout the Indo-West Pacific and western coast of Africa.

They can grow to various sizes, with the giant mudskipper being one of the largest, reaching almost 12 inches (30 cm). There are over 30 species of mudskippers found in tropical regions around the world, primarily in the Indo-Pacific region, including India, West Africa, Polynesia, Southern China, Japan, and Australia.

They thrive in coastal region, where they inhabit mud flats exposed by the retreating tide. Mudskippers feed on tiny plants and animals that flourish in the mud flats.

Mudskippers are widely consumed in Asia and are sometimes kept as pets. They are considered an aphrodisiac when consumed raw.

They are highly resistant to environmental pollutants and can accumulate high concentrations of toxic compounds in their tissues. They are euryhaline fish, meaning they can tolerate different levels of salinity in the water.

Mudskippers are known for their ability to change color, gather mud in their mouths, and blow bubbles on their eggs.

Many mudskippers are carnivores, and they use their unique movement abilities to catch their prey.Their diet consists of invertebrates, crustaceans, small fish, insects, and worms. They are carnivores by nature and need plenty of protein to thrive.

Mudskippers can be kept as pets in aquariums with brackish water, but they require a paludarium setup that includes both land and water.

Mudskippers exhibit diverse diets, with some being carnivores, some omnivores, and others herbivores, primarily feeding on algae. Some mudskippers are aggressive predators, eating snails and crustaceans, while others graze on algae.


How do mudskippers move on land?

Mudskippers have well-developed pectoral fins that act like legs, allowing them to walk, hop, and climb on land. Their ability to move on land is a result of their adaptation to their semi-terrestrial environment.

Can mudskippers breathe air?

Yes, mudskippers are able to breathe air. They have a modified gill system that enables them to extract oxygen directly from the air when they are out of the water. They close their gill slits and use their mouth to draw in air for respiration.

Are mudskippers endangered?

As of my last update in September 2021, mudskippers were not listed as globally endangered. However, some species may face threats due to habitat destruction and pollution in their coastal ecosystems.

Do mudskippers lay eggs on land?

No, mudskippers do not lay eggs on land. Instead, they lay their eggs in burrows, which are then flooded by the rising tide. The eggs develop and hatch in the water, and the juvenile mudskippers return to land after hatching.

Are mudskippers social animals?

Yes, mudskippers exhibit social behaviors. They can be found in groups, and some species even show cooperative behaviors, like foraging and warning each other about potential threats.

Can mudskippers survive in home aquariums?

While mudskippers are intriguing creatures, they have specific habitat requirements and behaviors that can make them challenging to care for in home aquariums. It’s essential to provide a setup that mimics their natural environment, including both aquatic and terrestrial areas, as well as access to air for breathing.

In conclusion, Mudskippers demonstrate that even though they have different adaptations from other fish, they can do incredible things with what they are given.

They truly showcase the extraordinary ways in which life has adapted to thrive in diverse and challenging environments, making them a subject of great interest for researchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

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