Mudskippers (Periopthalmus ssp.)
Those with an interest in a truly unique pet need look no further than the mudskipper. These truly bizarre little creatures exist at the limits of what is possible for a fish. In many ways, they seem to straddle the line between fish and amphibians, leaving the water for long periods of time to chase insects across mudflats and even up onto tree trunks.
Mudskippers are fairly small fish, with the largest reaching a length of 12 inches. They occur throughout the tidal areas of East Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, and along the Red Sea. Most species are associated with mud flats or mangrove swamps. Although populations can be quite dense under favorable conditions, their habitats are under a number of pressures and many species face an uncertain future.
The mudskipper's most distinguishing characteristic is its welldeveloped ability to move about on land. It is aided in this regard by highly modified pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins. These enable the fish to pull itself along and even to leap about quite rapidly. In addition, the fused pectoral fins form a suction disc that allows these little acrobats to climb up mangrove roots and tree trunks. The eyes are situated at the top of the head and are, for a fish, quite movable.
Why don't mudskippers dry up and perish as do other fish that are removed from water?
Although they do leave the water for quite extended periods of time, mudskippers generally remain in fairly well saturated habitats, such as tidal mud flats. The skin is adapted to absorb water in these situations and the tightly fitting gill covers allow them to carry about a supply of water for breathing purposes.
Mudskippers are assisted in their terrestrial activities by covers that tightly seal the gill chambers, allowing the gills to stay moist. While on land, the fish utilizes oxygen in the water that is stored within these gill chambers. The most commonly available mudskipper in the pet trade is
Most mudskippers do well in captivity if provided with a suitable habitat. The males are, however, very territorial and dominant specimens will make life miserable for others. Males of most species can be distinguished by their large dorsal fins and slightly brighter colors.
Mudskippers require a quite unique aquarium. They do best if provided with a “beach” area, as has been described earlier in this chapter. In the alternative, they can also be provided with small islands fashioned from nontoxic tree roots, coral heads, and rocks.
Mudskippers are fairly tolerant in their salinity requirements and will do well under typical brackish water aquarium conditions. They should be maintained at temperatures of approximately 75°F (24°C).
Although adapted for capturing invertebrates such as crabs and insects, mudskippers adjust remarkably well to frozen foods such as prawns and clams. This food should be placed on land, as most species will not feed while submerged. They especially enjoy live insects such as crickets. Their frenzied hunting activities at this time will certainly delight you, as they charge about and even flip upside down in their rush to obtain this favored meal.