The Inky Depths #5: Fish That Walk!
May 27, 2022 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Glug glug, let's take a stroll!

Most commonly, walking fish are amphibious fish. Able to spend longer times out of water, these fish may use a number of means of locomotion, including springing, snake-like lateral undulation, and tripod-like walking.

A charming animated video about amphibious fish

And here are some more!


The mudskippers (great scientific link with diagrams) are probably the best land-adapted of contemporary fish and are able to spend days moving about out of water and can even climb mangroves, although to only modest heights.

Mudskippers: The Fish That Walk On Land (BBC)
Walking with Mudskippers: A Fish That’s Happy Out of Water

Epaulette Shark!

The epaulette shark (video) tends to live in shallow waters where swimming is difficult, and can often be seen walking over rocks and sand by using its muscular pectoral fins. It lives in areas of great variation in water depth, usually where the tide falls below its location. If it finds itself out of water, it can survive for several hours, and is capable of walking over land to get to water. This means that it is easily observed by beachgoers in its natural range.

Walking Catfish!

There are a number of fish that are less adept at actual walking, such as the walking catfish (video). Despite being known for "walking on land", this fish usually wriggles and may use its pectoral fins to aid in its movement. Walking catfish have a respiratory system that allows them to live out of water for several days. Some are invasive species, for example, the Northern snakehead in the U.S. Polypterids have rudimentary lungs and can also move about on land, though rather clumsily. The mangrove rivulus can survive for months out of water and can move to places like hollow logs.

These next fish walk on the sea floor but not on land, but this is NO LESS EXCITING

Batfish! (of the family Ogcocephalidae)

Video where a bit of a silly chap does the voice over


The tripodfish (video) stands on three fins on the bottom of the ocean and hunts for food, suavely, I might say. Additional video.

African Lungfish!

The African lungfish (video) can use its fins to "walk" along the bottom of its tank in a manner similar to the way amphibians and land vertebrates use their limbs on land.

Climbing Gourami!

The climbing gourami is often specifically referred to as a "walking fish", although it does not actually "walk", but rather moves in a jerky way by supporting itself on the extended edges of its gill plates and pushing itself by its fins and tail. Some reports indicate that it can also climb trees.

Flying Gunard!

Flying Gunards have been observed to "walk" (video of movement) along sandy sea floors while looking for crustaceans, other small invertebrates and small fish by using their pelvic fins. Like the true gurnards (sea robins), to which they may be related, they possess a swim bladder with two lobes and a "drumming muscle" that can beat against the swim bladder to produce sounds (video with audio). They have heavy, protective scales and the undersides of their huge pectoral fins are brightly coloured, perhaps to startle predators.

Longer video with no talking
More video: Carriacou's Weird and Wonderful Sea Creatures: The Flying Gunard

And almost finally, there's the ancient Tiktaalik, which lived about 12 million years before the first tetrapods (which are approximately 363 million years old)! The existence of tetrapod features in a fish like Tiktaalik is significant because it marks the earliest appearance of these novel features in the fossil record.

Tiktaalik's First Steps - David Attenborough's Rise of the Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates - BBC

And even flat fish are getting in on this walking thing! (National Geographic: These freaky fish use their fins to 'walk' across the seafloor)

Annnnd a few more. (Fish With Legs: 15 Rare Species That Can Walk)

Walk a nautical mile in these fins, folks!


The Inky Depths #4: Slender Snipe Eel (Deep Sea Duck)

The Inky Depths #3: Pink See-Through Fantasia (Headless Chicken Monster)

The Inky Depths #2: Wobbegong (Carpet Shark)

The Inky Depths #1: The Whalefish
posted by tiny frying pan (7 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I apologize, I meant to include more on the batfish, who I was considering doing a whole post on, before I did this compiled one about walking fish. Here are some links, mostly about the red-lipped batfish, who looks like it's wearing a lovely red shade of lipstick. Sorry, batfish!

Why Do Red-Lipped Batfish Have Red Lips? (And other things you need to know about this unusual fish)

Snazzy video with big band music, no talking
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm gonna learn about walking fish and lipstick fish today (those are both runway categories on RPDR, aren't they?) and catch up on deep sea ducks.
Thanks for these posts, they are fun informative lil spooky and more fun!
posted by winesong at 9:08 AM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Glad to see another of your posts! I'd seen mudskippers on nature shows as a kid, where they wallow/flop around in the muck. It didn’t prepare me for the Malaysian ones. They'll burst out of the water, somehow rebound again of the surface to perch on sharp, craggy rocks, then dive off again when you get closer. It's like walking among fishy squirrels.
posted by brachiopod at 9:39 AM on May 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Every time I read about walking fish I think about this Onion article: Dolphins Evolve Opposable Thumbs: "I believe I speak for the entire human race when I say, 'Holy fuck,'" said Oceanographic Institute director Dr. James Aoki, noting that the dolphin has a cranial capacity 40 percent greater than that of humans. "That's it for us monkeys."
posted by fuse theorem at 10:26 AM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

How have I managed to miss all of these Inky Depths posts?

Great stuff to dive into. Or flop around in like a mudskipper.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:50 PM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Unless surveying your kills, pay them anarhichas no mind…now fishy that walk 🎵
posted by beastelyse at 6:45 PM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am honored to have this post marked as new and noteworthy! Thanks for the encouragement, MeFi, and stay tuned for the next installment!

🐟 🦈 🐙 🦀
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:38 AM on June 5, 2022

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