When you hear the word “fish,” a very definite image may pop up in your head. Whether your mental image is a goldfish or a shark, the basic structure remains the same.
Even at this moment, you likely imagine an oval species with fins and a tail that allow them to swim through the water, “swim” being the key word here.
There is a slim chance that anyone would imagine a fish “not swimming.” Because that’s what all fish do, right? Well, not exactly.
You may be surprised to learn that there are fish species that can actually walk on land. In fact, there are at least 11 identified fish with this ability.
Read on to learn more.
Is It Possible for Fish to Be Able to Walk?
Somewhere around 370 million to 430 million years ago, a rather ambitious fish decided to leap out of the water and try its chance at walking. And since that day, the world has never been the same.
The questions about how the fish was able to achieve such a feat still fascinate scientists to this day.
However, considering that our entire existence today can be traced back to a fish deciding to take to the land one fine day, there should be little space for doubt when it comes to a fish’s ability to walk.
Today, with the knowledge of evolution humans have acquired over the years, it has become somewhat easier to understand how fish may have been able to walk on land.
It likely wasn’t that the fish just jumped out of the water and landed on its tails, which were now suddenly functioning as its feet, and took a stroll down the beach.
Instead, it may have taken at least hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of years of evolution before that one fish species somehow developed the ability to walk on land.
The Great Discovery – The Waterfall Climbing Cavefish
The hypothesis that humans have actually evolved from fish has been around for quite some time. In fact, one of the first known people to hold this belief was the ancient Greek philosopher, Anaximander.
Admittedly, Anaximander’s theory was heavily flawed. However, the more you look into the theory, the more you understand where he was coming from.
But what’s even more baffling is the fact that – despite his extremely limited knowledge and implausible reasoning – Anaximander did get one thing right – humans did, in fact, evolve from fish.
Although the theory had existed for a long time, there was a huge debate around its plausibility; simply because it didn’t make much sense.
Even for someone who refuses to believe in evolution, Darwin’s Theory can still make some sense. But the idea that humans may have evolved from fish was too far-fetched to believe for most people.
All of that changed in 1985 when scientists discovered a species that would eventually be named Cryptotora thamicola; also known as the cave angelfish or waterfall climbing fish.
Scientists were absolutely baffled to discover that this fish, which was native to the deep caves beneath the Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand, was able to climb rocky outcrops.
Upon further research, it was discovered the waterfall-climbing fish, like most cave dwellers, had lost its sight.
To make up for this potentially inattentional blindness, the waterfall-climbing fish developed the ability to climb rocks. This allowed the fish to explore the bodies of water within the cave environment.
The ability to walk enables them to survive the fast-flowing streams in the caves by gripping the rocky streambeds. During drier seasons, they’ve also been observed to climb waterfalls; hence the name.
Despite being a groundbreaking discovery, the cave angelfish is far from being the only fish that can walk. In fact, there are at least 11 such species that have been discovered over the years.
Known Fish Species That Can Walk on Land
From amphibious fish to cave dwellers, here are all the known fish species that have been identified to be able to walk on land and rock.
When it comes to fish that can walk, mudskippers are often the first ones to come to mind. Found in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific, these amphibious fish spend the majority of their time on land.
Their pectoral fins and shoulder joints have evolved to give them the ability to breathe, move, and see on land. The fins also enable them to climb mountains if the need arises.
As their name suggests, mudskippers generally thrive in muddy areas near water bodies. In addition to being good climbers and walkers, their tails also give them the ability to swim well.
Despite their abundant population in the Caribbean region, it can be rather challenging to locate a shortnose batfish. This is because this sea creature generally thrives in unvisited areas.
What makes the shortnose batfish rather fascinating is that despite having the ability to walk, they seldom use it. The only time shortnose batfish have been observed to walk is while they are hunting.
Since they mainly consume small fish and crabs, the ability to walk slowly makes it easier to remain hidden while hunting for prey. However, the same can be achieved by swimming slowly.
If faced with a predator, this fish would immediately ditch this ability and start swimming. Additionally, the shortnose batfish cannot survive outside of the water.
Therefore, it is hard to figure out why exactly the shortnose batfish developed the ability to walk, which is what makes it more fascinating than most other fish, which have some identified reasons for evolution.
This small fish can be found in regions throughout Asia and Africa. When in the wild, they typically thrive in fast-moving rivers.
The most interesting aspect of the climbing perch is its gills, which allow it to breathe on land and in water. When on land, the gills open up, which enables the fish to breathe in oxygen from the air.
However, once they go underwater, the gills function as any normal fish gills to allow them to breathe underwater.
It has a long, slender body, a pointed head, sharp spines on the back, and fins. The fins and spines give the climbing perch the ability to walk on land.
The climbing perch can be found on land and on water, mostly depending on where they find it easier to hunt prey.
You may already be aware of the snakehead fish, as it is a popular delicacy in some parts of the world and is also commonly used for sport fishing. But did you know this fish can also walk on land?
Similar to most other fishes on this list, the snakehead has powerful pectoral fins that enable it to walk on land. Additionally, it has a special organ that allows it to breathe air.
These combined factors make it possible for the snakehead fish to survive up to four days on land.
However, it is important to note that these are rather deadly creatures. If they are on the loose and invade a region, it can be very challenging to get rid of them.
Another fish that is commonly found in the regions of Africa and Asia, the bichir, can grow up to 3 feet in size. Combining this with its ability to walk on land makes it a rather scary creature.
Also known as the dragonfish and dinosaur eel, the bichir has a flattened head and a long body. It also has a long, pointed snout and sharp teeth.
There are several evolutionary factors that allow the bichir to walk on land. Not only does it have fully functional lungs that allow it to breathe air, but also scales that prevent it from drying out.
Additionally, it has a strong skeleton and pectoral fins that allow it to walk on land. Overall, it is safe to say that the bichir has the best of both worlds when it comes to walking and swimming.
Other Fish That Can Walk
- Walking Catfish
- Epaulette Shark
- Climbing Gourami
- Mangrove Rivulus
As you can see, there are a number of fish that can as easily walk on land as they can swim in the waters. It is certainly interesting to see how they’ve evolved over the years to develop this ability.
Either way, nature, and the animal kingdom never fail to surprise us.
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