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Archerfish Scientific Classification

Archer Fish Description and Appearance

Archery fish are a family of surface fish known for their ability to feed on terrestrial insects and other microorganisms through their ability to spit water from their mouths. Archerfish, of the order Perciformes, are also known as “spray fish” because they shoot a jet of water at an insect to knock it back into the water.

Archerfish have a laterally compressed elongated body which makes them look thin in water. They generally live in schools of four to five individuals, and when they spot prey, all the fish of the school start shooting at the target. If a fish misses the target, it can shoot up to seven streams of water at the insect being aimed at. Since the archerfish prey on land-dwelling insects, they move around the surface of the water.

The archerfish stays near the top of the water without breaking its surface. It is their ability to shoot water on their target which makes them unique and notable.

Archerfish are popular for aquaria, but difficult to feed since they prefer live prey.

How Archerfish capture their prey

In the wild, archerfish use their spit cannons to knock insects and other prey into the water so they can gulp them down. But in the lab, researchers used food to train these mangrove-loving fish to apply their sharpshooting abilities to an experiment on animal cognition. (Related: How archerfish squirt water with stunning accuracy.)

Tricks for treats, in other words.

“Fish are often considered to have short memories or have only enough intelligence to be capable of very basic tasks,” says Cait Newport, a marine biologist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study. “However, even basic tasks like finding food or mates, or escaping from predators, can require memory and considerable intelligence.”

Young archerfish start shooting when they are about 2.5 cm (1 in) long but are inaccurate at first and must learn from experience. During this learning period, they hunt in small schools. This way, the probability is enhanced that at least one jet will hit its target. A 2006 experimental study found that archerfish appear to benefit from observational learning by watching a performing group member shoot, without having to practice:

However, little of their social behaviour is currently known beyond that archerfish are sensitive to, and make changes to their shooting behaviour, when conspecifics are visible to them. Probably as a result of the potential threat of kleptoparasitism that other archerfish represent to a shooting fish.

An archerfish will often leap out of the water and grab an insect in its mouth if it happens to be within reach. Individuals typically prefer to remain close to the surface of the water.

New research has found that archerfish also use jets to hunt underwater prey, such as those embedded in silt. It is not known whether they learned aerial or underwater shooting first, but the two techniques may have evolved in parallel, as improvements in one can be adapted to the other.

Where does an archerfish live?

They are also found in Northern Australia in mangrove swamps, feeding on insects sitting on the branches of the mangroves. They are also found in various parts of Southeast Asia, like in India and the Philippines. Australia is more commonly the habitat and range of two species of archerfish, namely banded archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix) and the seven-spot archerfish (Toxotes chatareus). Toxotes jaculatrix or banded archerfish is one species of archerfish that live specifically in mangroves. The banded archerfish uses its gill covers by compressing them, forcing the water out of a narrow tube formed by their tongue and mouth to adapt to mangroves.

Archerfish's habitat and Lifespan

The typical habitat and range of archerfish is a river delta and marine, brackish water. The archerfish generally inhabit brackish mangrove estuaries along the coast. They can exist in both fresh and brackish water. They are most commonly found in shallow and ideally murky water due to their feeding habits. Archerfish generally dwell on the surface of the water to aim at their land-living prey.

The average lifespan of archerfish is five to eight years when kept in captivity, and it can go up to 9-10 years in their natural habitat.

Production and Lifecycle

These fish reproduce by spawning. They generally mature between the ages of one to two years and start reproducing when they are about 3.9 in (10 cm) long. After maturing, they tend to swim out of their brackish waters into the coral reefs to spawn. It has been reported that the banded archerfish is one species of archerfish that goes to saltwater reefs to spawn.

Rain that ends tropical dry spells tend to trigger spawning. The female lays 20,000-150,000 eggs. The eggs float on the surface of the water and hatch in about 12 hours. Because of their ability to reproduce in such large numbers, they are one of the most difficult breeds to be kept in an aquarium or tank.

Archerfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

“However, even basic tasks like finding food or mates, or escaping from predators, can require memory and considerable intelligence.” The new study, for instance, revealed that archerfish could be trained to recognize a three-dimensional rendering of one human face compared with another, different face.

Archer fish are generally peaceful and do not harm other fishes. However, it is preferable to keep them alongside a school of fish of the same size or a bit larger than them. Otherwise, they are likely to snap at smaller fish in the aquarium out of hunger. Besides, they are somewhat intolerant of other Archer species.

Archerfish are a brackish water fish – the set up will be covered further on – however, they have been known to tolerate both completely freshwater and a marine habitat – although this isn’t recommended.

These fish inhabit a range of environments from freshwater to brackish water conditions and temperate species suitable for coldwater tanks such as Murray River Rainbows to tropical species such as Archer Fish.

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