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Tag Archives: Brackish Aquariums

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Archerfish Care – Incredible Brackish Water Insect Snipers

Banded ArcherfishHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  In the early 1980’s, I had the good fortune of being chosen to help set up the exhibits in Jungle World, a new Bronx Zoo building highlighting Southeast Asian wildlife. Leaf Insects, Sunbirds, Marsh Crocodiles, Giant Soft-shell Turtles, Proboscis Monkeys, Tapirs…all came under my care, but it was a mangrove marsh exhibit that became my favorite. It housed a variety of unique animals, including Mudskippers, Fiddler Crabs and Monos, but the real stars were a school of Banded Archerfish (Toxotes  jaculatrix).  Visitors especially enjoyed watching me service the exhibit…the Archerfishes would invariably squirt water at the movement of my eyes as I looked down at them, and they never missed!

Natural History

Seven archerfish species have been described. They range from India to Malaysia and Australia, ofrten in association with brackish water mangrove swamps, but most also enter freshwater and the ocean. Archers and other species that move between salt and fresh water for other than breeding purposes are known as amphidromous fishes. 

At least 1 species, the 5 inch-long Smallscale Archerfish (Toxotes microlepis), spends most of its time in the freshwater. The giant of the genus is the 16 inch-long Largescale or Spotted Archerfish (T. chatareus). Both occasionally appear in the pet trade, where they are often confused with the Banded Archerfish (please see below). Read More »

The Wrestling Halfbeak – a Tiny Brackish Water Warrior

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  This Southeast Asian fish’s slender, 3-inch- long body belies its reputation as a fearsome combatant.  However, in betting parlors from Thailand to the Sunda Islands, matches between male wrestling halfbeaks (Dermogenys pusilla/pusillus) rival those featuring the better-known bettas (Betta splendens) in popularity.  In contrast to bettas, battling halfbeaks rarely inflict any serious damage…other than to the billfolds of losing gamblers!

Description and Habitat

Halfbeaks sport a startling adaptation to surface feeding…their immobile lower jaw is more than twice the length of the upper.  This, along with their subtle beauty – a silvery body highlighted by hints of blue and green – renders them a most unique addition to one’s collection. 

Halfbeaks inhabit estuaries and other areas of fluctuating salinity, and, while sometimes kept in fresh water, are at their best in brackish water aquariums. 

Feeding Wrestling Halfbeaks

Halfbeaks are highly specialized surface feeders and rarely if ever swim to lower depths in the aquarium. They tend to be picky feeders and prefer tiny live invertebrates such as mosquito larva, brine shrimps, fruit flies and Daphnia. Chopped blackworms may be taken, but these sink quickly and so must usually be offered via forceps (tedious but effective!). 

Halfbeaks may be habituated to flake and frozen foods, but the progeny of such fishes rarely reproduce, most likely due to a nutritional deficiency.

The Halfbeak Aquarium

While visiting pet stores and aquariums in Japan, where halfbeaks are more commonly kept than in the USA, I was surprised to find that multiple males were often housed together.  I learned that males will co-exist in large, well planted aquariums if emergent and surface-dwelling plants are grown as sight barriers.  Watching the threat displays and interactions in such aquariums was most interesting, and cast these little fellows in a new light for me.

A unique habitat preference and feeding style dictates that halfbeaks be kept in long, shallow aquariums and, with few exceptions, in single-species groups.

Breeding Halfbeaks

Wrestling Halfbeaks are live bearers, with healthy females giving birth every 30 days or so; males may be distinguished by a bright red blotch located in front of the dorsal fin. 

Unfortunately, adults are quite cannibalistic, and the fry rarely survive.  Breeding traps are not recommended, as the birthing process takes several days and females become stressed by long confinement in small areas.  Thickly-planted aquariums, with much of the vegetation at the surface, offer the best chance of success. 

Further Reading

Detailed information on the natural history of these and related fishes is posted at ZipCodeZoo.com.

A book I’ve written, The Everything Aquarium Book, addresses the care of brackish water fishes in detail.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 


Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Halfbeaks image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Neale Monks

Mudskippers – blurring the line between amphibian and fish


Please welcome back Frank Indiviglio to That Fish Blog.
Those with an interest in unique aquarium fishes need look no further than the mudskipper. These odd little creatures seem to straddle the line between fishes and amphibians, leaving the water for long periods of time to chase insects across mudflats and even climbing up onto tree trunks.

Mudskippers, the largest species of which reach a length of 12 inches, inhabit tidal flats, river mouths and mangrove swamps in East Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, and along the Red Sea.

The mudskippers are unusual in having highly modified pectoral, pelvic and anal fins that enable them to move about quite well on land – they can even leap (“skip”) about very rapidly. In addition, the fused pectoral fins form a suction disc that allows these little acrobats to climb up onto mangrove roots and tree trunks. The eyes are situated at the top of the head and are, for a fish, quite movable.

Gill covers tightly seal the gill chambers, and water stored there keeps the gills moist and provides oxygen to the fish as it scuttles about on land. Mudskippers also absorb moisture from the damp mud upon which they usually travel when out of water. Although it is tempting to think of mudskippers as representing an early stage in the development of amphibians, the creature that gave rise to frogs and salamanders was more like the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus fosteri, in appearance and in its method of breathing (utilizing primitive lungs).

The most commonly available mudskipper in the pet trade is Periopthalmus barbarus, a fairly hardy species that reaches a length of 6 inches. Like all mudskippers, it hails from brackish water areas.

Mudskippers are fairly tolerant in their salinity requirements, and will do well under typical brackish water aquarium conditions (salinity of 1.005-1.015) and temperatures of 75 – 80F. They require a “beach” area, which can be a separate, drainable plastic container within the main aquarium or designed as small islands fashioned from non-toxic tree roots, coral heads and rocks. The popular “aqua-terrariums” now on the market make excellent mudskipper homes as well. Remember to keep the water shallow, or to provide easy access to land, as they are poor swimmers (not something you usually worry about when keeping fish!).

Most mudskippers do well in captivity if provided with a suitable habitat. Males, however – distinguished by their large dorsal fins and bright colors – are very territorial, and dominant specimens will make life miserable for others, so plan your group and space accordingly.

Although they prey upon live invertebrates such as crabs and insects in the wild, mudskippers adjust well to frozen foods such as prawn and clams. I also provide a vegetable-based frozen food from time to time, and find they accept this readily as well. Their food should be placed on land, as most species will not feed while submerged. Mudskippers are especially fond of live crickets, small shrimp and other such foods, and these should form a large portion of their diet. Their acrobatics when chasing live food – they often flip over in their excitement – never fail to delight me.

Brackish water community tanks containing mudskippers and fiddler crabs make fascinating exhibits. The interactions between the crabs and mudskippers (assuming they are properly matched in size!) go on all day long. If you establish a deep water area (mudskippers will do okay as long as they can exit the water easily) you can add such fascinating fishes as four-eyed fish, Anableps spp., scats, Scatophagus argus and rubrifus, monos, Monodactylus argenteus, and, of course, the amazing archer fish, Toxotes chatareus. In fact, archer fish are at their best in an aquarium containing a land area because in such they can show off their incredible ability to knock crickets from land into water. Somehow compensating for the refraction of light through water, archerfish eject streams of water at insects (best observed by placing crickets on branches positioned over the water’s surface), hitting them unerringly and thus securing a meal. They will also aim water at your eye movements, so be careful!
I’ll cover the creation of such aquariums in future articles. Until then, please share your observations and write in with your questions. Thanks, Frank.

For more information on establishing aquariums for brackish water fish, please see the article Brackish Water Basics, posted on on February 26, 2008:

Brackish Water Aquarium Basics

One of the aquarium topics that seems to create a great deal of confusion amongst our customers is what is a brackish aquarium, and what do you need to successfully keep brackish fish. To shed some light upon this niche of aquarium keeping, I would like to welcome Lexi Jones back to our blog, to share this article about brackish aquarium basics that she has written.
Welcome Lexi!
You might ask, “What is brackish water?”

Brackish water is a mix of freshwater and saltwater, as in estuaries, mangrove swamps, or brackish rivers. The salinity is higher than freshwater, but less than salt water. The specific gravity should be kept between 1.005 and 1.015 for a brackish water aquarium, depending on the type of habitat. You may have to increase the salinity of the water over the fish’s lifespan; this also depends on the type of fish you plan to keep.
Owning a brackish water aquarium is very unique. It is also easier to keep than a saltwater aquarium, being that the fishes in these habitats are used to fluctuations in salinity and water parameters.

The basic supplies you will need to start a brackish water aquarium are as follows:

Aquarium– Brackish aquariums can be set up in just about any size aquarium, I would start with at least a ten gallon size. As with any fish that you plan to keep in an aquarium, you should know the adult size of the fish, and make sure that you have chosen an appropriate match for the size aquarium you have.
Filter– Hang on the back bio-wheel and mechanical power filters, or canister type filters are the best types for a starter brackish water aquarium.
Substrate– sand. This can be any saltwater aragonite sand or even children’s play sand. This sand will help to stabilize the pH of the aquarium, which should be between 7.6 and 8.4 depending on the type of habitat.
Heater– The temperature should be about 80- 82 degrees Fahrenheit. You need to make sure the heater is adequate in size. A rule of thumb is 5 watts of heat per gallon. You will also need a thermometer to make sure the temperature stays constant.
Any tank should have a Glass top or hood. Brackish water aquariums will evaporate water faster than most freshwater aquariums, given the higher temperature recommended. The use of a hood will help to reduce evaporation as much as possible.
Lighting is another requirement, but how much you need varies. If you are only keeping fish, a simple fluorescent bulb fixture will suffice. However, if you plan on keeping plants more intense lighting is required. Also, the light should only be on for around 10 hours a day.
Marine Salt– I use Instant Ocean at home, but any brand of marine salt will work. DO NOT use freshwater aquarium salt; this is not the correct salt to use for brackish or marine tanks.
Hydrometer or Refractometer Hydrometers and refractometers are devices that measure the salinity and/or specific gravity of your aquarium water, and allow you to make sure that you are maintaining the proper salt levels in your brackish aquarium
Water Conditioner– This will remove chlorine and chloramines that are in tap water. Prime and AmQuel are both good water conditioner products to use.
Bacterial Supplement– Products such as Stress Zyme, Stability, or Cycle add beneficial bacteria to the aquarium. The bacteria in these products help to jump-start the aquarium by breaking down organic waste. It may take up to 6 weeks to start a large aquarium. For more information look up Cycling an Aquarium.

That will help you start. If you have any questions feel free to call us, or send us an e-mail

Thanks Lexi
Until next blog,