Mudskippers are carnivorous, aggressively hunting mainly arthropods (e.g.,
insects) and crustacea. These are caught on the mud, or while the fish is
swimming in the water. They may even eat smaller mudskippers.
Ikan Belacak/Belodok/Tembakul (Malay)
of the largest of the mudskippers in the world and definitely the
largest in Sungei Buloh Nature Park, Giant Mudskippers dominate the
mudflats and move about openly.
At high tide, they may remain at the water surface, near their burrows,
resting on roots, rocks or other surfaces. At low tide, they forage
actively on the mudflat or perch at the entrance of their burrows.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Large (20-27cm), two black lines from
eye to tail. Genders look alike.
Status in Singapore: Not
as common as other mudskipper species.
World distribution: P. schlosseri are native to
Southeast Asia from Indonesia to Borneo. Mudskippers are
found along the coasts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
A few species are found in Africa and none are found in
the New World.
Classification: Family Gobiidae,
subfamily Oxudercinae. Worldwide 34-35 species, Singapore
more than 5 species.
Mudskippers are found along the intertidal zone, living happily on
the margin of land and sea. They have special adaptations to help them dominate
a habitat which few other animals can exploit: soft mud with fluctuating
water quantities and qualities.
do they breathe on land? Underwater, mudskippers breathe through
gills like other fishes. However, unlike other fishes, mudskippers can't
stay underwater indefinitely. Other fishes asphyxiate when taken out of
water because their gill filaments stick together and cannot absorb gaseous
oxygen. Mudskippers can retain water in enlarged gill chambers which lock
shut on land. Sort of reverse scuba gear, to keep their gills remain moist
on land. They rotate their eyes to swill the water in the gill chambers
around and keep the gills fluffed up and oxygenated.
mudskippers can actually breathe air. They can absorb gaseous oxygen through
blood-rich membranes at the back of the mouth and throat (buccopharyngeal
cavity). They also absorb air through their skin which is rich with blood
capillaries, so long as the skin remains moist. This is why they often roll
in puddles and keep their tails in water, leading some early observers to
believe that mudskippers breathed through their tails! Mudskippers also
have to regularly replenish the water in their gill chambers so they cannot
stay far from water. Giant Mudskippers have among the best land-adapted
gills: shorter filaments reinforced with rods so they don't collapse easily
out of water.
they walk? Mudskippers have arm-like pectoral fins which even
have little "elbows". But they do not move these alternately in
the way that we walk. Instead they make little hops by keeping their body
rigid and jerking forwards on their pectoral fins; called "crutching"
because the movement is similar to that of a person on crutches. They leave
typical trails on the mud (right).
do they climb? Some mudskippers have specially adapted pelvic
fins which act like suckers to hold them agains a vertical surface, while
they use their arm-like pectoral fins to "reach" up and "pull"
themselves up. In this way, they can creep up roots and rocks.
How do they skip? By flipping their
muscular bodies, they catapult themselves for a distance of up to 60cm.
They skim over mud as well as the water surface. Mudskippers actually move
faster on land and on the water surface than by swimming with their bodies
adaptations to life on land: A distinctive and endearing feature
of mudskippers are their huge goggly eyes at the top of their heads. In
fact, Periophthalmus means "around eyes". These eyes sit
on stalks and periscope above the water, while the rest of their bodies
remain safely underwater. Unlike other fishes, mudskippers prefer to swim
with their heads above water, their eyes giving them a good 360 degree view.
To keep their eyes moist when they are on land, the eyes can be retracted
to dip them into water that collects at the bottom of the eye socket. Mudskippers
are probably the only fish with movable eyelids! Their retinas have rod
receptors above and cones below, giving them colour vision above and monochrome
Mudskippers can also tolerate high levels of toxic substances such as cyanide.
Giant Mudskippers take great care of their young. During breeding, a
nest is built deep in the mud. The burrow is made by scooping mud out by
the mouthful. Around the entrance, a low wall is built so there
is always a pool of water over the entrance at low tide. The tunnel is about
the diameter of the fish (about 8cm) but at the surface, the entrance can
be up to 1m across. Burrows can reach 1.2m deep. Sometimes several entrances
The eggs are laid deep in the burrow. As there is virtually no oxygen in
the burrow, the fish aerates the water there by gulping mouthfuls of air
and bringing into the burrow. The eggs are laid on the "roof"
of a chamber at the end of burrow. The larvae that hatch from the eggs remain
in the burrow until they change into a more mudskipper-like shape. These
juveniles probably remain in the safety of the pool around the nest entrance
until they are big enough to leave.
Mudskippers are very territorial particularly at breeding time. Threat
postures include gaping mouths, erecting fins, darkening their coloration,
ending with chases, which can sometimes go for long distances. Their black
lines become more obvious when they are agitated. Usually a little
skirmish of displays is enough to decide the pecking order, but sometimes
outright battle ensues as rivals lock mouths and try to throw each other.
|Role in the habitat:
Giant Mudskippers are preyed upon by the Dog-faced
Watersnake (Cerberus rynchops) which slither down their
burrows to catch them. They are also preyed upon by herons
and kingfishers. To escape
predators, they rapidly skip off to a sheltered place, or into their
Status and threats: Like other
inhabitants of the mangroves, mudskippers are threatened by habitat
destruction and pollution. In China and Korea, they are made into
soup! They are also eaten in Japan. To catch them, a bamboo pot is
buried in the mud to simulate a burrow and thus trap the fish. Mudskippers
don't do well in captivity.
Blue-spotted Mudskipper (Boleophthalmus boddarti)
is another species that can be found in Sungei Buloh Nature Park.
Compared to the Giant Mudskipper, they are slightly smaller (13-22cm)
and have chevron markings instead of two lines down their body.
Unlike the Giant Mudskipper, they are vegetarians and graze on algae
and other titbits that are left behind by the tide on the mudflats.
They harvest this by skimming the mud surface with side-to-side movements
of their heads.
They have a more vigorous courtship than the Giant Mudskipper. The
males attract females by leaping into the air, raising their colourful
dorsal fins at the peak of their acrobatic flip.
Mudskipper and Goby Web Site by Richard Mleczko: lots of details,
photos including the following articles on mudskippers:
- Ivan Polunin, "Who Says Fish Can't Climb Trees?" in
the National Geographic magazine, Vol 141, 1972
- "The Mudskippers of the Island of Ubin, Singapore" by
Richard Mleczko, photos by Tony Wu: lots of beautiful photos and
trial and tribulations of getting the shots.
- Edward O Murdy, "Mudskippers of Malaysia: the Lords of the
Mudflats" in the Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Nov 86: with
detailed fact sheets on Scartelaos pectinirostris/histophorus,
Boleophthalmus boddarti, Periophthalmus chrysospilos.
- "Mudskippers store air in their burrows" by T. Takita
in Nature, Vol 391 15 Jan 1998.
brief fact sheet on mudskippers in general
New Jersey State Aquarium: brief description of how they build their
burrows and breathe air.
Most Unique Fishes: The Mudskippers by Associate Professor Ip Yuen
Kwong Department of Biological Sciences on the National University of
Singapore website: about the breathing and other unique adaptations
of Periophthalmodon schlosseri and Boleophthalmus boddarti's
tolerance to cyanide.
Ecology of Mudskippers by Khaironizam Md. Zin Biodiversity and Conservation
Division, Institute of Biological Science, Faculty of Science, 50603
Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya, Malaysia on the National University
of Singapore, Dept of Biological Science website: Brief abstract on
Periophthalmodon schlosseri on the Selangor coast.
- Peter K L Ng and N Sivasothi, "A Guide to the Mangroves of
Singapore II: Animal Diversity", Singapore Science Centre,
1999 (p. 138-139: description, habits, habitat, photos).
- Prof Dr Yong Hoi Sen (ed), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia:
Vol 3: Animals", Mudskippers by Durriyyah S H Ali, Didier Millet,
1998 (p. 84-85: lots of details about their habits, habitat, distribution
with photos and diagrams).
- Michael Mastaller,
"Mangroves: The Forgotten Forest Between Land and Sea",
Tropical Press, 1997 (p. 68-69: habits, habitat, photos and about their
dual colour vision).
- Colin Field, "Journey among Mangroves", International
Society for Mangrove Ecosystems, 1995 (p. 51: brief details about their
habits, habitat and how they are harvested by people).