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What is a Mudskipper?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 21, 2024
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A mudskipper is a unique fish that is able to live part of the time out of water. It has special features that allow it to breathe air, and is able to remain out of the water for up to two days at a time. Mudskippers use front pectoral fins to get around on land and do its hunting and eating out of water as well.

Mudskippers are primarily brown in color, with a speckled appearance. Its body is long with well-developed muscles. It has fins and tails like any other fish, except the front pectoral fins are long, strong, and have a bend in them that looks like they have elbows. The eyes are located on the top of the head, and are very large, bulging outwards. An adult mudskipper can grow to a length of up to 9.8 inches (30 cm), and they live as long as five years.

The mudskipper is often found living in coastal intertidal areas, the margin between land and water in parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia where there are tropical or subtropical climates. Mudskippers especially prefer swampy areas, since this fish spends a good deal of its time out of the water in the mud. It does a great deal of its hunting and eating in the mud, preferring a diet of insects and small crustaceans. It will even swallow mouthfuls of mud, since it usually has a lot tiny organisms in it.

The mudskipper is able to spend a lot of time out of water because it is well adapted to life in the mud. The mudskipper is able to breathe on land by absorbing oxygen right through its skin, as long as the skin is kept moist. It is also able to absorb oxygen through specialized membranes at the back of the mouth and throat that have an extra blood supply. The gills are adapted not to collapse out of water, but stay fluffed up and full of oxygenated water. When in water the mudskipper breathes through its gills like any other fish.

A mudskipper is able to move around on land by using its front pectoral fins. It uses these fins almost like a person would use crutches, propelling itself along, using the fins to hop or jump forward. It is also able to move through the mud by burrowing and digging holes and tunnels with its mouth. In fact, at mating time the female mudskipper lays her eggs in a special burrow the male digs for her; once the eggs are laid the male cares for them, bringing them mouthfuls of oxygen from the surface until they hatch. The baby mudskippers remain in the burrow for a short time until they are large enough to survive on the outside.

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