Brackish water pets

One of the draws of pet keeping, for me, has always been the connection to the wilderness. Pets could take me to faraway lands, without ever having to leave my living room. The environment, animals and climate and the interaction between them, has constantly piqued my interest. Watching countless hours of wildlife documentaries I was able to recognize archerfish, a simple looking fish, for the complex organisms they truly are.

I studied their parameters and prepared a 47 gallon beveled aquarium for them. In my research I found suitable tank mates for them which were equally, if not more, dramatic in their characteristics and skills: mudskippers.

Archerfish are unique because of their hunting style. Mudskippers are unique due to their ability to move their eyes independently and stay out of the water for long periods.  Archerfish squeeze their gills forcing water to go along the roof of its mouth and shoot down its next meal. Mudskippers can not only swim, but can also walk, jump, climb and…skip.

These fish are the most extraordinary aquatic animals I have kept as a hobbyist. Fortunately, their care is not too difficult and requires just a few additional steps compared to a freshwater tropical tank.

These fish are considered brackish water fish. They come from areas where freshwater meets saltwater. Estuaries, mangrove forests, and some swamps are where these habitats exist. The salinity is more than freshwater and less than true saltwater. If you purchase a hydrometer (a device to measure the saltiness) is should read around 1.015. Although fish that live in these areas are able to tolerate a wide range because in the wild, tides are always changing the composition.  The pH for these fish usually ranges from 7.5 to 8.4, with temperatures between 70 and 86 degrees.

Mollies, gobies, puffer fish, monos and scats are other types of brackish water fish. Monos or scats look like a shorter finned angelfish that are vividly colored. Most people are familiar with mollies and are surprised they can not only live in brackish conditions, but often thrive in salty water.


Archerfish are well known on documentaries and in the fish hobbyist community. They can get up to 1 foot long and spit at a target, with accuracy, 5 feet away. They have a triangular body which is mostly grey with yellow and black spots or stripes. For adult archerfish a 100 gallon tank with a tight fitting lid is recommended.  These fish not only shoot but also jump at their prey. Occasionally they will jump out of the water to grab an insect on an overhanging branch.

Providing plenty of plants that do not reach the surface is ideal, as they are surface swimmers. You can feed them a variety of meaty foods like mealworms, crickets and freeze dried plankton flakes. To see them spit at their prey, simply hold an insect above the water and watch them practice.  You will soon have your own splash zone, just like a marine park, in your home.

Some research suggests that once the prey hits the water, the fish can respond and eat the prey within 50 milliseconds of it touching the water. After all it doesn’t matter how good their aim, it matters who can get to the fallen food first. Young archerfish practice in schools giving those insects a slim chance of staying dry.

Mudskippers are suitable tank mates for archerfish because of the water parameters and tank set up.  Mudskippers do require land or branches to beach themselves. They use their pectoral fins to walk around, which is very amusing to watch. Mudskippers can be territorial with other mudskippers so I kept only two in my 47 gallon tank.

They can be fed live foods like brine shrimp, worms, mosquito larva, insects and small shrimp. They can also eat freeze dried foods like the archer fish. Mudskippers can be feed every other day, as overweight animals will acquire health problems. Mudskippers can grow up to 8 inches in length.

I was able to find all of these brackish water fish at local fish specific stores for between $8 and $20 each. With a little more research and some creativity in making your own vivarium (terrarium with plants, water and animals) you will be please with how a corner of your living room can transport you to a mangrove forest.


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