Fish Facts Fish that Walk

Fish that Walk

You’ve probably always thought that fish just behave themselves and use their fins to swim in order to get from place to place. Well, most fish do just that. However, when our wonderful Creator created fish on the 5th day, not only did he make them all look different, but He also created some to move from place to place differently from all the rest. He created some of the fish to actually be able to fly or glide.

God also created some fish to be able to walk. Now by walk I don’t mean to be able to actually stand up on their caudal fin and saunter about. No, what these fish do is use their pectoral fins, pelvic fins, caudal fin, and sometimes even their gills to scoot themselves along.

Walking Catfish

Now those of you who live in the Southern counties of Florida have probably heard of one of these fish. Since the early 1960’s an Asian catfish has been invading the state of Florida. At that time small minnows were used as live bait. Some of these escaped and reproduced.

This fish is now known as the walking catfish. Because of its ability to breathe air through special chambers near its gills it can survive on land. Though they don’t really walk like a cat they do wriggle and flop themselves over short stretches of land to seek bodies of water. (C. L. Smith)

In the Southeast part of Asia, where this fish originates it can reach 24″ in length, however in the state of Florida this breed will only get about 14 inches long. This fish propels itself from one body of water to another nearby source of water by using its pectoral fins. This cat uses these rigid fins to pull itself along while it wriggles its body using a back and forth motion to move along. While doing this the fish utilizes something called a suprabranchial arborescent organ, which is a section of its gills that act like modified lungs. This helps this animal to breathe oxygen while on its way to another water hole.

Northern Snakehead

Another walking fish is the Northern Snakehead. As the name suggests the head of this fish looks somewhat like a snake’s head. The coloring of this fish is golden tan to pale brown with dark blotches on the sides and saddle-like blotches across the back, resembling to some degree the coloration of a timber rattler. The canine looking teeth on the lower jaws add to its menacing look.

The Northern Snakehead can actually live outside of water for several days, which gives it the ability to move quite some distance if it needs to find another body of water. However, as this fish matures it loses its ability to move across land.

Though this fish is native to Russia, China, and Korea it’s recently been introduced in the U.S. In Asia this fish usually weighs 15 pounds and reaches 40″ in height. However, there was one whopper that measured 60″ in length. That’s 5-feet tall. That’s nearly as tall as some of you are! (And taller than some.)

Climbing Gourami

The climbing gourami is another fish that can walk as well. This fish uses its gills to push against the ground, while it moves its fins behind and flexes its tail to move forward. As its name suggests this perch climbs out of water and up rocks and sloped tree trunks. There it breathes air for hours at a time. Because it cannot get enough oxygen from water it stores oxygen in a cavity above its gills before submerging itself again.

Australian Walking Fish

In Australia there are two fish that walk- the mudskipper and the Spotted handfish. The mudskippers live on the mud flats near mangrove bushes, which they climb occasionally. Like other walking fish mudskippers use their fins to propel them along. To enable them to breathe outside of the water they retain a certain amount of water inside their gills. With their bulging eyes they can spot food both under or above the water.

The Spotted handfish was one of the first fish identified in Australia. At that time it was quite plentiful. In recent years, however its territorial range has diminished and is now only found in Derwent Estuary and a few adjoining bays.

These fish were the first marine animal to be placed on the endangered species list in Australia. This occurred in 1996. As marine biologists studied this animal they found that it typically sits for long periods of time. This makes it an easy target for predators. It also lays its eggs where predators can eat them. Pollution is the cause of death to many eggs. Sea stars also contributed to the decline in numbers as well. [See Note 1]

Note 1- When the Spotted handfish was placed on the endangered species list in Australia, marine biologists first thought the Northern Pacific Sea Star was eating the handfish’s eggs. However, instead it was found that this Sea Star was eating a tulip-shaped plant found in the area instead. Typically, the Spotted handfish lays its eggs around this plant. As an alternative the scientists placed plastic sticks into the sand and found that the fish used 49 of these sticks as a place to lay their eggs compared with only 5 egg masses that were found around the natural sea tulips. Now the biologists are hoping they can increase the number of handfish by giving them more plastic sticks to lay their eggs around.

Note 2-In recent years a team of marine biologists discovered 52 new species of underwater animals off the coast of Indonesia. One of these was actually a shark that walks! This epaulette shark scurries over coral using its fins as it seeks out food.


Robert H. Robins, ‘Walking Catfish’, Ichthyology Education, Florida Museum of Natural History,

Lavett Smith, Fish Watching, An Outdoor Guide to Freshwater Fishes, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1994.

Hillary Mayell, ‘Maryland Wages War on Invasive Walking Fish’, National Geographic News, July 2, 2002.

Barry Bruce, CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, Tasmania,

Michael Casey, ‘Shark that Walks on Fins is Discovered, The Associated Press, September 18, 2006.