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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