How Long Can A Fish Live Out Of Water? Fun Facts For Curious Kids

Outdoor & NatureLearn more
Outdoor & NatureLearn more
Have you been amazed at how long can a fish live out of water?

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You must wonder how can fish survive out of water.

Is it even possible for a fish to stay out of water? Yes, there are many fishes that can stay alive out of the water, and for months too.

When we hear the phrase 'fish out of water', we feel hurt. It seems rather unlikely for a fish to survive out of the water. For most common fishes that we know, it is true that they will die without water. But there are a few species of fish that can stay alive on land, not only for a few minutes but for months at a stretch. Mangrove rivulus is one such variety that can stay alive for as long as 66 days.

Most fish die outside of the water in a few minutes, as they only breathe through their gills. But this Mangrove rivulus fish is able to take oxygen from their skin. This means it can live for months on land.

It is very interesting to know that a species of catfish can live out of water too. They can actually walk on land. They come out of the water to lay eggs. Using their fins to walk, they move a little distance away from the shore before they lay eggs. Not exactly walking, but wriggling on the land they use special organs to breathe in oxygen. However, they can only survive for a few hours until they have to return back to the water body. In rainy seasons, they are seen walking on the roads in the below-lying areas after heavy rain or flooding.

A similar variety of fish is the mudskipper. They can live on land for a few days. They come to land for mating and egg-laying as well. They have bright blue colors on them. Actually, this amphibious fish can live most of its life on muddy land. It uses its flippers to walk on the mud and dances to lure the female.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about how long can a chicken live without a head or how long can mouse live without food here at Kidadl.

How do fish breathe under water?

Generally, a fish cannot survive more than a few minutes out of the water, but there are a few species of fish that can live for days on land.

Fish have a different respiratory organ than humans. We have lungs that take in oxygen from the air. Fish have gills that take out oxygen from the water. Humans cannot do this. If we try breathing through water, we will die. We cannot stay underwater without an oxygen cylinder. Similarly, the situation is painful for fishes if kept out of water.

A fish gulps in water from the mouth and then it passes through the gills. This is where the oxygen is absorbed by the blood of the fish.

The majority of the species of fishes only have gills. They only live underwater and they have no chance of living out of the water. They can stay in the aquarium, but the wild variety does not live well in an aquarium. There are special species which are popular pets at home.

It is fun to know that even though whales and dolphins are fish, they are mammals. This means they have lungs rather than gills and they need to surface in order to breathe in air. There is a small flap of muscles on the blowhole that does not allow water to enter. Only air goes into their lungs. They are only able to survive on land for a short length of time if they are kept hydrated and away from the sun.

Can fish breathe out of the water?

Though most fish do not survive out of water for long, there are species of fish like mangrove killifish and walking catfish that can stay alive for hours on land.

Fish have the ability to breathe dissolved oxygen through their gills when they are underwater, unlike mammals who have lungs for breathing. When fish are taken out of the water, they suffocate and die due to a lack of oxygen.

There are a few amphibious fish that can live on land as well as water. They absorb oxygen through the skin and not just gills. When they go back to the water even after a long time, their gills become active. Mudskippers and lungfish are amphibious in nature. These fish can survive on land for months, not just days.

Pet fish like the goldfish or those in an aquarium are not able to live outside water for a few minutes. They need to be put back in the water as soon as possible. Pet fish suffocate and die soon if the water for transfer is not ready. Their chances of survival are much lower compared to saltwater fish. Saltwater fish can live around 10 minutes outside of the water, however pet fish cannot survive out of water even for a minute.

Have you ever seen a walking catfish?

What happens to fish when they get out of the water?

Species of fish that have only gills and are not amphibious in nature die quickly out of the water. They need to be put back in the water as soon as possible.

Varieties of fish that live in an aquarium do not live outside the water. The time for how long can a fish stay out of the water and still be alive, is a matter of the species to which they belong. Whales and dolphins come to the surface to breathe. They can also stay alive outside water as they have lungs.

A few amphibious fish can survive a long time as they breathe through their skin. They have adapted to nature. Having pectoral fins, it is possible for them to navigate on land. They have special organs to live on land as well.

Some people have spotted a walking catfish. This is possible because they can absorb oxygen through their skin and not just their gills.

The Mangrove killifish is a well-known fish to have high survival chances on land for months at a given length of time. It not only has the ability to absorb oxygen through their skin, but it has also adapted and can store oxygen in its body for staying on land.

The lungfish is not an active fish out of the water on land. It goes into a dormant state. The body gets into a cocoon sort of a shape with mud all over it. It can stay alive like this for years. When it is put back into the water, it will come to life. Generally, if an area in which they stay gets dry for a certain length of time, they breathe through their primitive lungs. But when the dry spell is over, they can start to swim again underwater.

Mudskipper is also a variety of fish that can live out of the water and can be seen wriggling in the mud. They can be seen digging up mud to their lay eggs. It is a wild fish that lives out of the water on land. They come in large numbers to the shore each year. Mudskippers have blood vessels close to the skin. They have the ability to absorb oxygen in the blood directly through the body. But they cannot stand high temperatures. This causes their skin to dry out.

How long can fish survive out of water?

No fish can survive without oxygen. They need to breathe through their gills or skin to survive. However, they may be able to survive outside water with special organs.

When people go out fishing, they catch and store fish in ice or water tubs. After being caught, saltwater fish live out of water for a few hours. But fish like mudskippers, lungfish, and walking catfish are species of fishes that are amphibious fish. They have adapted to the need for oxygen on land and developed special organs to absorb oxygen. They can breathe air directly. Some do it through their blood vessels, while some have developed lungs.

It is interesting to note that whales and dolphins too have lungs. They do not have gills. They are not fish that can live out of the water for a long time, but need to surface for air. Even when they sleep, these types of fish cannot breathe in water. For breathing, they have to surface. It is at this time that we see them jumping and playing. They dive deep by holding their breath when catching prey.

Whales and dolphins are mammals but water is their habitat. They live underwater. These types of fish can not absorb the dissolved oxygen from water as they lack gills. They can survive on shore for a little while, as breathing in air is not a problem. Their problem is being wet. They have to return to their habitat soon. They do not have sweat glands to keep them wet. They have to surface even when in water to be able to breathe air.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how long can a fish live out of water, then why not take a look at how long can a bearded dragon go without eating or catfish facts.


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Kidadl Team

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

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