How Long Do Fish Survive Out of the Water?

How Long Do Fish Survive Out of the Water?

The amount of time a fish can survive out of water depends on the species of fish. Many people believe that death will occur when a fish is taken out of their watery habitat, but some marine life has learned to survive out of the water. Some fish can even travel by land to get to another area. While many fish die within the first 15 minutes of being on land, some fish can last up to weeks on land before they die.

Ways Fish Can Survive Out of the Water

Breathing Through their Skin

As most people know, fish can breathe through their gills and not their mouths. But there are a surprising number of fish that developed the ability to breathe through their skin. Using this method to take in oxygen, they’re able to use their whole body to breathe in more air so they can survive on land. 

They Use Less Energy

When certain fish are pulled out of the water, they will intentionally move less and will not flop around much like other fish that are tiring to break free from capture. This is because using more energy to escape will cause them to need more oxygen. Instead, they will use their strength in short but powerful bursts to escape.

They Live a Part of their Life on Land

Because certain environments like wetlands and marshes have a lot of lands that are only slightly submerged underwater, many fish and animals in these regions are able to live both within the water and on land. Some of these fish can live for days at a time as long as the soil is moist. Many fish who have predators in these lands will jump onto the moist ground so they can escape.

They have a Slower Metabolism

Some fish, or any animal really, have a slow metabolism, so they need less energy to move around. These fish also take in less oxygen, so when they are on land, they don’t need as much oxygen as another fish.

Which Fish Can Live Out of the Water

  • The killifish – because they can breathe oxygen through their skin, the killifish can live outside of the water for several days at a time. Scientists once found and monitored a killifish that lived for 66 days on land. The killifish survived without eating anything either.
  • The American eel – While technically not a fish, the American eel, as well as some eels in Europe, have the ability to breathe oxygen through their skin. They can live on land for a few hours, but they can last longer if they travel through marshes and swamps with extremely moist soil.
  • The tarpon – this fish does not need to leave the ocean in order to breathe. The tarpon travels to the surface of the water and breathes oxygen and then dive back down underwater. This page cannot travel too far down into the ocean because they need to access the surface so they can breathe air.
  • The snakehead – this fish has the unbelievable ability to live for up to four days at a time on land. This fish has developed the ability to breathe air in order to reach new bodies of water and migrate across short distances.
  • The lungfish – during the summertime, the habitat of the lungfish dries up, which means that rivers and lakes evaporate. For the lungfish to survive, it creates a mucus cocoon and hibernates until the rainy season returns again.
  • The mudskipper – although it cannot completely live on dry land for very long, these fish are able to stay above the surface of the water if the ground is moist like a swamp or the wetlands. They can travel over a small stretch of dry land, but wetland is best for them
  • The Wooly sculpin – this fish may be tiny, but that doesn’t mean they will die the second they touch land. In fact, they can survive above on land for 24 hours, and they evolved this ability because they leave the water to look for a new home
  • The Rock skipper fish – because these fish evolve to eat algae and moss, must come up to the surface and climb onto rocks to eat. The rock skipper fish is found mostly in tropical harbors where the warm-weather can create a lot of algae from the bacteria in the water.
  • The climbing perch – many of the fish on this list are amazing, but none can top the climbing perch. They can walk on land because they have spines on their fins that allow them to drag themselves through the soil.

How Did These Fish Develop the Ability to Live on Land?

Fish that have developed the ability to leave the water for any amount of time are called amphibious fish. Currently, scientists believe that even though these fish all live in different areas around the world, they developed the ability to breathe oxygen around the same time.

fish out of water staying alive

Fish that can live on land are actually the next stage of aquatic evolution. Millions of years ago, the ancient ancestors of these fish began to evolve in order to find new methods of catching and sneaking up on prey, escaping predators, or establishing new migratory locations. 

Because these fish have the ability to live on land, some of their other body parts have adapted to living on land as well. In some fish species, they have better eyesight, can handle cold weather, use their fins to move around, and their bodies produce a slime that coats and protects them from the sun.


There is an entire class of fish that have the ability to survive out of the water and on land for a time. Unlike other fish, which die within 15 minutes of being out of the water, some of these fish can live on land for days and even migrate on land. The different mechanisms can protect them from the heat and from moisture loss, help them breathe through their skin, and they can see through the air.

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