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Archerfish: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Diving into the waters of Southeast Asia and Australia, we encounter the fascinating world of the Archerfish, a unique species known for its distinctive hunting method.

These small but mighty creatures have developed an extraordinary ability to shoot down prey with a stream of water, earning their name as nature’s very own archers.

In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing life of Archerfish, delving into their habits, biology, conservation status, and much more.

The Archerfish at a Glance


Superclass:Osteichthyes (Bony fish)
Species:7 known

Essential Information

Average Size:5-10 inches (12.7-25.4 cm)
Average Weight:0.2-0.6 lbs (90-270 g)
Average Lifespan:5-7 years in the wild
Geographical Range:Southeast Asia, Australia
Conservation Status:Least Concern, Data Deficient for the Zebra Archerfish (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

There are seven recognized species of Archerfish:

  • Banded Archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix)
  • Smallscale Archerfish (Toxotes microlepis)
  • Large-scaled Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus)
  • Western Archerfish (Toxotes lorestanicus)
  • Spotted Archerfish (Toxotes oligolepis)
  • New Guinea Archerfish (Toxotes kimberleyensis)
  • Jansen’s Archerfish (Toxotes janseni)

Each species has unique traits; for instance, the Banded Archerfish is known for its prominent vertical black stripes, while the Large-scaled Archerfish has larger scales compared to its relatives.

Archerfish closeup


Archerfish are relatively small aquatic creatures, typically measuring between 5 to 10 inches (12.7 to 25.4 cm) in length. They have a laterally compressed body shape and a pointed snout, which facilitates their unique method of hunting.

Their color can vary depending on the species and environment, ranging from silvery white to dark brown, often with stripes or spots for camouflage. Their dorsal and anal fins are set far back near their tail, a characteristic of the species.

There is no significant sexual dimorphism in Archerfish, meaning that males and females appear largely similar. However, during the breeding season, females may appear slightly swollen due to carrying eggs.

Habitat and Distribution

Archerfish inhabit the tropical estuaries and mangroves of Southeast Asia and Australia, specifically in countries like India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

They can be found both in fresh and brackish waters, showcasing their adaptability. They prefer areas with dense vegetation that provides ample shade and cover, creating an ideal setting for their extraordinary hunting techniques.

These environments also offer a rich selection of both water-bound and terrestrial insects for them to feast upon.

Group of archerfishSource: Wikimedia Commons


Archerfish are diurnal creatures, most active during the day. They are known for their remarkable hunting skills, firing jets of water at terrestrial prey with extreme accuracy, hence their name.

When it comes to social structure, Archerfish are schooling fish, often living and hunting in groups, which can help to confuse predators and increase their hunting success.

Communication in Archerfish is largely visual and tactile due to their social nature and living conditions. They may show aggressive behaviors like chasing or gentle nipping to establish dominance within the group.

Diet and Hunting/Feeding Behavior

Archerfish are carnivorous, their diet primarily consists of insects, but they have been known to eat small animals as well, including spiders and small lizards.

Their hunting strategy is unique among fish. They squirt jets of water at insects on plants above the water surface, knocking them into the water, where they can be easily consumed.

This method requires a good understanding of refraction and gravity, skills that they develop as they grow older.


The natural predators of Archerfish include larger fish, birds, and occasionally reptiles. Their behavior of schooling can help protect them from these threats to some extent.

Additionally, their ability to inhabit brackish waters, where many predators cannot survive, also provides a level of safety. The young are particularly vulnerable to predation due to their smaller size and less developed hunting skills.


Reproduction and Life Cycle

Archerfish breeding habits involve the male staking out a territory and defending it from rivals while trying to attract a female. Once a female is attracted, she lays her eggs in the water, which the male then fertilizes externally. There is no gestation period as such, since the development happens outside the body.

The female can lay several hundred to a few thousand eggs, which attach to various surfaces and hatch within a week. The parents do not provide care to the young; after hatching, the young archerfish are left to fend for themselves. These juvenile archerfish will begin to hunt by spitting water at around two months of age.

Conservation and Threats

The conservation status of the archerfish is not currently a major concern, as they are widespread throughout their native habitats. Most are listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, meaning they are not considered threatened or endangered.

However, like many aquatic species, they could potentially face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. The use of pesticides can directly affect their food source, and runoff from human activities can harm their habitats.

Efforts to conserve Archerfish typically involve maintaining the health of their ecosystems and monitoring water quality in their habitats. Some efforts are also in place to protect their habitats from destruction due to human activities.

Fun Facts

  1. Archerfish are named for their remarkable hunting technique. They use a jet of water as an arrow to knock down insects from branches into the water, where they can eat them.
  2. They have incredible aim and can hit a target up to 3 meters (around 10 feet) away.
  3. The archerfish is a master of physics. It adjusts the shape of its mouth to change the water pressure, creating a continuous jet of water that strengthens as it travels, hitting prey hard just as it reaches them.
  4. Archerfish not only accurately hit their targets, but they also account for the refraction of light at the water’s surface. This makes their actual shooting accuracy even more impressive!
  5. Archerfish can recognize human faces. In a study, researchers found that archerfish were able to learn and remember human faces with a high degree of accuracy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do archerfish shoot water?

Archerfish use their specialized mouthparts to form a narrow groove. By closing their gill covers, they force water along this groove and out of their mouths in a concentrated jet.

How far can an archerfish shoot?

Archerfish can typically shoot a jet of water about 2 to 3 meters, or approximately 6 to 10 feet.

How big do archerfish get?

Most species of archerfish grow to about 10 to 12 inches in length, though some have been known to reach up to 16 inches.

Can I keep an archerfish as a pet?

Yes, archerfish can be kept in a home aquarium, but they require specific conditions to thrive, including brackish water and a varied diet.

How long do archerfish live?

In the wild, archerfish live for about 5-7 years. In captivity, with the right care, they can live up to 10 years.

Top image: Wikimedia Commons

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