Siamese Archer Fish, Ikan Sumpit
Fishes are famed for their ability to shoot down insects and small
creatures resting on foliage or mangrove roots. In fact, Toxotes
means "bowman" or "archer". Their flattened body
presents a narrow profile from above, so they can sneak up on their
prey. The bold black-and-white markings camouflage them in the sundappled
water under mangrove vegetation.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
grow up to 40cm, but usually about 25cm, and weigh up
to 750g. Flattened, knife shaped body. Genders look alike.
Peter K L Ng and
Status in Singapore: Common in mangroves.
World distribution: India, Southeast Asia, Australia,
the Western Pacific.
Classification: Family Toxotidae.
Only one genus, world 6 species.
do they shoot? Archer Fishes are like submarine water pistols
and can spit out a strong and accurate jet of water. With their tongue
against the groove on the roof of their mouth, they form a tube, and
force water powerfully out by snapping shut their gills. To get a
good jet of water, the snout sticks out of the water, but the rest
of the fish remains underwater. They direct the jet of water with
the tip of their tongue. For accurate aim, they have large eyes located
very near the mouth, which give good binocular vision.
Their eyes, however, do not automatically correct for refraction,
and they have to learn how to do this. The position of least distortion
is directly below the prey, and the fish soon learn that this is the
best shooting spot. The fish can squirt up to 7 times in quick succession,
and the jet can reach 2-3m, but they are accurate to only about 1-1.5m.
Fish as small as 2-3cm long can already spit, but their jets reach
Photo from David Stone
Photo from John Palmer
the jet of water knocks down the titbit, the fish gulps it down in
its large deep upwardly directed mouth. If the blast doesn't knock
down the prey, sometimes the weight of the water on the wings causes
the insect to lose its grip and fall.
Other ways to get their lunch: Archer
Fishes, however, prefer to leap out of water to grab the prey in their
jaws when it is close enough. When the leap fails, they may then resort
to spitting. Archers usually swim in shooting parties. Often, several
shoot at the same prey, and shoot relentlessly. When the prey finally
falls, all rush to grab it. As the sharpshooter doesn't always get
the prize, if the prey is within reach, the fish prefers to leap out
of the water and grab it in its jaws. A prey in the mouth is worth
two spat at! They can jump up to 30cm high. But Archer Fish don't
just eat above-water prey. They also hunt small aquatic creatures
and fishes, sometimes swimming in deeper water to catch these.
Breeding: It is believed that only the juveniles are found in
brackish water while the adults are more solitary and swim out to the coral
reefs to breed. 20,000-150,000 eggs are laid. Only a few reach maturity
in 1-2 years. Young fish have iridescent yellow patches on their upper body
between the dark bands, which perhaps helps them to school together in the
muddy waters. As they get older, patches disappear and the black bands get
shorter and eventually only seen on the uppermost part of the body.
Role in the habitat: Found in brackish
water in mangroves and estuaries and sometimes further inland in fresh water.
and threats: Archer fish control populations of their
prey. They are also food for others higher up on the food chain. Although
Archers are fairly common, they are threatened by the destruction
of mangroves and by collection for the pet trade. Two Southeast Asian
species are collected for the aquarium fish trade. They are not bred
In Kew Gardens, Archer fishes are kept in ponds with tropical waterlilies
to help keep down small insect pests and aphids!
- Peter K L Ng and
N Sivasothi, "A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore II: Animal
Diversity", Singapore Science Centre, 1999 (p. 134: description,
habits, habitat, photos).
- Dr J.D. Van Ramshorst
(ed.), "The Complete Aquarium Encyclopedia of Tropical Freshwater
Fish", Elsevier Publishing Projects, 1978 (p. 364-365: features,
habits, description of shooting, photo).
- John Palmer (ed.),
"Exploring the Secrets of Nature", Readers' Digest
Association, 1994 (p. 194: description of shooting and jumping, photo).
- David Stone, "Biodiversity
of Indonesia Tanah Air", Didier Millet, 1994.