How long can a fish survive out of water?

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Fish are aquatic creatures that live in either freshwater or saltwater for most or all of their lives. You cannot deny that you have been fascinated by these sea creatures at some point and have wondered about their various characteristics. But, their most peculiar characteristic is that they live in water, which does not lead to the question.

We all know that fish, like other aquatic beings, need water to survive. Even so, I have thought many times about the possibility that fish can live outside of water.

How do fish survive in water?

Since fish do not need atmospheric oxygen, they spend most of their lives underwater. Your respiratory system depends on the oxygen dissolved in the water.

Dissolved oxygen flows around the fish underwater and passes through their gills when they open. As the hydrogen peroxide passes through, the tiny blood vessels in the gills draw oxygen and discharge the waste back into the water. This is how fish breathe.

The respiration process of fish is somewhat similar to that of humans. Since we have lungs to extract oxygen from the air, fish have gills to extract oxygen from the water.

Both fish and humans will survive for some time before they cannot breathe. Ultimately, the fish will die if they stay out of the water for too long, but the question is how long they survive before they can no longer breathe.

What we’ll cover in this article is understanding how long it will take for the gills to collapse after they lose contact with the water.

Thinking of fish out of the water, the idiom “Like a fish out of water” comes to mind. It refers to an individual who feels uncomfortable in a particular environment, such as a fish outside its natural habitat. The expression brings the image of a fish flapping its fins, struggling to find water.

But not so fast. Before dying, fish can survive out of the water, some species even for years.

We know that fish get oxygen from water, but some species can also get oxygen through their body mechanisms, such as their skin. These fish are naturally amphibian beings. Larger fish can also store oxygen to survive in deep water.

How long a fish can live out of water depends on their species, size, environment, or natural habitat to which they belong.

If your goldfish jumps out of a fish tank, it can survive as long as its gills remain wet and the fish can breathe in the dissolved oxygen. In this case, the surface on which it lands is very important.

The temperature of the location will also play an important role in determining whether the fish will survive out of the water.

Factors behind survival of fish out of water:


How long a fish will survive out of water will depend on its type. Amphibian fish can stay out of water for hours, days, and even years. That’s because of the mechanisms in your body designed to withstand harsh conditions.

Pet fish, on the other hand, only survive for a few seconds to a couple of minutes before their gills dry out and suffocate.

Metabolic rates

The amount of energy a fish needs to survive is another factor that explains how long it will survive out of water. 

For example, fish that live in colder temperatures have slower metabolic rates, which means slower oxygen consumption and longer survival.

Oxygen demand

How long a fish will survive without the oxygen supply from the water also depends on how much oxygen it needs. Fish with slower metabolic rates have lower oxygen demands, so they are more resilient out of the water.

Fish that survive the longest out of water:

I have given you a general idea of ​​how long a fish can live out of the water and the factors that explain it. Since there is immense uniqueness between fish species, it means that some fish are tougher out of the water than others.

Here we explore some specific types of fish and how long they can survive away from their natural habitat.


This fish is amphibian and can survive a long time out of water. The Killifish jumps out of the water on its own when the water gets too hot.

Over time, it has evolved enough to breathe through the skin while away from water. Their skin allows them to survive on land for two months, longer than most fish.

The Walking Catfish

This is a type of freshwater catfish native to Southeast Asia of the order Siluriformes. Over time, the fish has developed an additional organ that helps its gills to inhale oxygen from the air. After major storms, the walking catfish bobs or “walks” on land to find their way back to the water.

Mud Jumping Fish

The Mud Jumper Fish can survive on land for most of its life. Amphibian fish have blood vessels close to the surface of their skin, which makes it easier for them to absorb oxygen into their bloodstream. It allows them to spend most of their life out of the water.

Mud jumpers have pectoral fins on their bodies that look and function as legs. They help them “jump” over muddy surfaces and even climb low branches.

That is why they have adopted this breathing system through the skin.

Snakehead fish

This amphibian fish can be found in some parts of Africa and Asia. As their name suggests, snakehead fish, also known as Channa Argus, have elongated bodies and a diet consisting of plankton, minnows, and frogs.

Generally, snakehead fish can survive on land for up to six days. Some can even survive for months while searching for new habitats or prey.


You may have seen or at least heard of eels that are generally found on sandy and rocky land. They also have the ability to breathe through the skin and dig holes in sand or mud to survive in shallow waters.

Climbing perch

Very similar to the lungfish, scientifically named Anabas Testudineus, the climbing perch has lungs and gills, allowing them to survive in harsh environments. The type is native to Asia, but the species can thrive on fishing boats and reach entirely new places for the fish without dying along the way.

Climbing perch can survive out of the water for between six and ten hours. They can also move on land by moving their body forward.


Diablo fish, also known as Plecos, found in fresh and salty waters, have adapted to survive out of the water by developing the ability to breathe through their skin. They can also store oxygen inside your belly to survive up to 30 hours without water.

This type of fish has tough skin, allowing it to survive in harsh, dry living conditions as they “wiggle” on land to find new habitats.


There are billions of fish in the ocean, and many don’t just spend their entire lives underwater. Many fish have unique survival mechanisms that help them thrive on land when necessary.

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