Mudskippers are amazing air-breathing fish that can crawl out of the water or swim in the water as they choose. There are various types in Far Northern Queensland. The species illustrated here is the Giant Mudskipper, Periophthalmodon freycineti, which can grow up to 20 cm long and is recognisable by the stripe along the side of the body separating an area of darker skin on the back from the lighter, more silvery sides and belly.

The photographs and short video clips below were taken in November 2011 from the Esplanade in Cairns, Northern Queensland, Australia. The tide had been creeping in over the extensive off-shore mudflats and was starting to lap ashore just below the boardwalk that runs for a large part of the Esplanade’s length. As a conservation measure in this special area, it is forbidden to actually walk on the mudflats, thus protecting the habitat from disturbance and contamination – and preventing keen photographers and naturalists from getting too close to the creatures. So the shots were taken with my camera’s x 24 zoom from the wooden walkway – which was a bit of a challenge.

In Tropical Seashores of Australia, an Ecosystem Guide, 2010 (ISBN 9780975747063), Damon Ramsay the author says:

While mudskippers are probably most common within mangrove ecosystems, they are also frequently seen on muddy banks and finer sediment beaches along the open tropical seashore.

Mudskippers are surely one of the most amazing groups of all fish, spending much of their time out of water. They are truly amphibious, living partly in and partly out of the water. Different genera have varying levels of adaptation to living either in or out of the water.

They are referred to as ‘mudskippers’, as they do indeed skip across the mud with a flick of their tail.

The video clip above shows a mudskipper on the shore, gulping air to inflate the opercular chambers (which results in large cheeks like a hamster storing food) so that it can breathe out of water. It can respire cutaneously, in the way that amphibians do (like frogs, for example) through the entire outer body skin, and the linings of the mouth and throat. While swimming in water, it uses its gills to breathe like any other fish.

The video clip above shows a mudskipper leaving the water and dragging itself up the shore using its strong, well-developed pectoral fins.


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3 Replies to “Mudskippers at Cairns”

  1. Hello Jessica, my wife and I will be visiting Cairns for the first time this November 2022, and I would appreciate your advice please, as to the recommended tide to aim for at Esplanade in Cairns, for optimal views of mudskippers.
    Thanks, Geoffrey

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, Geoffrey. It is a long time since my visit to Cairns in 2011 when I photographed the mud skippers. I am afraid I cannot give you information about the states of tide that are optimal for spotting these creatures. Cairns local tourist office might be able to help with tide tables etc. As I recall, mudskippers were easily visible right up close to the wooden boardwalk along the sea front each time we went there. That part of the bay seemed always to have a vast exposed mud flats whenever we went there during our 6-week stay. I believe that it is also possible to see mud skippers at Cairns Botanic Gardens and you might be able to get the information you need from there. It is a fantastic place to visit anyway and well worth a long stay as it is extensive. Hope this helps.


  3. We spotted 2 mudskippers today by the helipad during low tide about midday. Fascinating to watch a territorial battle unfold so close to the lagoon and all the people.

    Liked by 1 person

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