Kreature Feature started off as an educational presentation at our monthly general staff meetings here at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Now in its fourth month and increasingly popular among Aquarium staff, we decided it’s only right to extend the knowledge and fun to our readers here on our website. Every month PA to Head of Education Katja Rockstroh presents a different animal that we have here at the Aquarium and tells our colleagues more about it. Usually she uncovers some rather interesting facts about the various animals she researches. She also makes sure to entertain her co-workers …

Oh mudskippers! The weirdos of the animal world. Evolutionists use them as examples to show the transition of animals from water to land, but many others are just downright confused about this odd fish.

And that is the thing about the mudskipper – it’s a fish, but has qualities of amphibians and spends 90% of its time out of the water.

I found this description on Pitara and thought it rather fitting: “The fish actually looks like it was cursed by a fairy to turn into a frog and the curse stopped working half way!”

Looking at that, no wonder!

Mudskippers are most closely related to gobies, which are usually very small, no longer than 10cm, and comprise of more than 2 000 individual species.

The mudskippers at the Two Oceans Aquarium are barred mudskippers and are found in mangrove forests along the South African coast. They need to live in moist areas because of the way they breathe out of water. But more on that later.

The Latin name for the barred mudskipper is Periophthalmus argentilineatus. The reason I mention this is because there is usually a lot to a name. “Periophthalmus” originates from two Greek words referring to the wide visual field of the mudskipper. Think of the eyes of a chameleon. Mudskippers can also move their eyes around and so can see all around them.

The word “argentilineatus” on the other hand means “silver-lined” in Latin and refers to the silvery lines that barred mudskippers specifically have on the sides of their bodies. And for the Afrikaans readers, in case you were wondering, the barred mudskipper is called grootvin modderspringer.

As mentioned before, all mudskippers need to live in moist conditions. This means that you can find them in all tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions where there are mangrove forests and mudflats. Most mudskippers are found in marine environments, but some can also be found in brackish water.

Photo courtesy Ronrad/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The above is a typical representation of a mangrove forest and the kind of environment that mudskippers can be found in. Just like frogs and toads, mudskippers are able to breathe both under water as well as out of it. Frogs and toads use their skin as a breathing apparatus, which is what mudskippers can do too.

But, they have another way of breathing above water – they use two pouches that they have on the sides of their head called ABOs (Air Breathing Organs).

Before the mudskipper leaves the water, it fills these ABOs with fresh salt water. This is then washed over the gills, aiding with the breathing whilst out of water. Quite amazing.

In fact, mudskippers have become rather good at living on land, which shows in their anatomy. They “walk” rather well, with a joint in their pectoral fins (the ones on the side of the body just after the head) reminiscent of an elbow joint. They are also very good at jumping, believe it or not – here a video to show you:

As you can see, the jumping has everything to do with finding a willing female to mate with. What amuses me are images of fighting mudskippers.

Mudskipper fights break out mainly due to territorial disputes. But I find they really just look like they are having a grand old time singing together instead of fighting. A bit like the Three Tenors. The Three Tenors of the Mudflats.

We have two mudskippers in the building, Skippy and Kaptein. Skippy lives in the Upper Discovery Centre in our Environmental Education Centre and is cared for by our senior teacher Xavier Zylstra. Kaptein you can visit in the Oceans of Contrast: Indian Ocean Gallery, most likely chilling on his branch out of water, rather than under. The two cannot live together in an exhibit, mainly because they would just fight/sing too much.

Silly mudskippers!

Kaptein, span die seile

Sea you at the Aquarium!

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