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Archerfish – Aquatic Snipers

Patty here. archerfishOften brackish fish are a hard sell to people on the market to start an aquarium.  Fish appropriate for brackish systems don’t tend to be as colorful or as easy to mix in communities as many other types of fish, or so many think.  But though these fish are often banished to a remote corner of the fish shop, and often seem too complicated to keep, there is one fish in particular that may be the one to convince you to try your hand at a brackish system.

Archerfish are a common offering in the trade, but their brackish classification and simple beauty may keep them hidden from the view mainstream aquarium enthusiasts.  They are native to India, Southeast Asia, Australia and other countries of the western Pacific.  They prowl through estuaries and mangroves mostly, but may be found upstream in full freshwater or on reefs periodically.

The Banded Archerfish (Toxotes joculatrix), the species commonly offered in the trade, is modestly colored with a tan-grey dorsal area and a pale silvery-white body.  Bold black markings camouflage them from prey and predator above.  They have a compressed body with a flat area from the dorsal fin to the mouth which allows them to move along just under the surface of the water. The mouth is angled upwards.

The most fascinating thing about Archers is their unique and famed ability to shoot their prey.  These fish are skilled predators that are able to snipe insects from branches and foliage 3-5 feet above the surface.  The fish shoots several droplets of water, quickly correcting any error in trajectory and aim to knock prey from the safety of the canopy to the water’s surface where the fish devours its meal.  They may also leap from the water to catch prey that is within reach or dine on small shrimp and fish in the water, but in the wild they commonly swim in groups of “shooting parties”, working together to pick off unsuspecting bugs. With the right set up, you can witness this behavior in your own living room!

This species can reach a max size of up to 12 inches in the wild, so habitat size is the first thing to consider.  They can be expected to reach about 8-10 inches in captivity, and the minimum size aquarium is 55 gallons.  Larger, deeper tanks are better!  Though juveniles may tolerate freshwater environments for some time, as the fish mature a brackish level of 1-2 percent will be necessary (roughly 8-15 teaspoons of aquarium salt per 10 gallons).  The ideal set-up is one that allows for plenty of room to swim and terrestrial areas or areas of open air (like a large tank filled half or 3 quarters full/paludarium set-up) to make the fish happy and allow for a great show! 

You can furnish the tank with salt tolerant vegitation both in terrestrial areas and submerged, driftwood, root wood, rock, and sand or fine gravel.  Good filtration is a must! Though the fish are hardy, they like clean water like that where they are found in the wild.  Once in their new home these fish will quickly resume normal hunting activities, and a batch of live crickets will make for some sport.  These fish will also eat frozen and freeze-dried foods.  Other fish can also be housed with archers as long as they are tolerant of brackish conditions, large enough not to be considered prey, and not overly boisterous.


  1. avatar

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  2. avatar

    I have a 160 ltr with external 1000 cannister filter. I have a native Tandanus catfish. I would like to add 2 archer fish. They will inhabit the top of the tank. I would like to then add an eletric yellow and electric blue malawi followed by a Brichardi princess chiclid from Tangykani.

    Is this a worthy venture and are there any tips please?

  3. avatar

    Hi Greg. Tandanus cats are very interesting fish to keep. As far as the tankmates you’re considering, there may be some issues. Tandanus live in clean, freshwater environments, and while they can tolerate a wide variety of hardness and pH, Archers are native to brackish estuaries, and will not do well long term in freshwater. You may be able to hose small tandanus specimens with cichlids, though the cichlids will prefer hard water and alkaline pH, and depending on their size, they may eventually become a meal for the catfish as tandanus will outgrow cichlids with time. The other issue will be with aggression, cichlids can be territorial and they may badger the catfish. The cats are scaleless, and even minor aggrssion from the cichlids may cause damage to the skin and open the fish to fungus, bacterial infections and other health issues. You may be better off with some nice sized Rainbows, tetras or other fish from similar habitat.

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