How Long Can Fish Live Out of Water

    The primary essential requirement for the life of fish is water. Fish need water to survive because, like all living beings, they rely on oxygen to sustain life. Additionally, their biological design allows them to extract oxygen from water.

    Regarding the question of how long a fish can stay out of water, despite their dependency on water, certain fish can endure a period away from it. The duration varies depending on the fish species, with some lasting only a few seconds, while others can survive out of water for extended periods, ranging from days to even months.

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    The primary reason fish do not inhabit land and breathe air, as humans do, is due to the absence of lungs. Instead, they possess gills, specialized organs that facilitate the conversion and absorption of dissolved oxygen in water.

    Nevertheless, various fish species exhibit unique anatomies and characteristics, allowing some to extract oxygen from the air while coexisting in both water and air, enabling them to swim.

    Knowledgeable fish keepers and aquarists recognize that certain fish are exceptions, exhibiting mammalian characteristics. These fish possess lungs and other physiological adaptations that enable them to extract and store oxygen when swimming in the ocean.

    How Do Fish Breathe in the Water?

    Understanding how fish adapt to water makes it clearer why they cannot survive outside of it.

    Similar to humans, fish rely on oxygen for respiration. If you’ve ever maintained an aquarium, you likely utilized an aeration system to infuse oxygen into the water for the fish to breathe.

    Fish possess a unique respiratory system compared to humans. Their gills play a crucial role in processing the water they respire. Beneath the gill surface, there are tiny blood vessels that extract oxygen from the water while simultaneously expelling harmful waste.

    The structure of gills operates similarly to our lungs, albeit with a key difference. While lungs extract oxygen from the air and separate gases, gills absorb oxygen directly from the water without the need for gas separation.

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    When you extract an animal from water, you’ll observe its gills expanding and collapsing rhythmically as it attempts to breathe. Despite being in the air, oxygen isn’t effective for them.

    The duration an animal can survive on land highlights distinctions among various species. Some fish experience the collapse of their gills and respiratory systems within minutes, while others can endure for several days. The latter group can sustain themselves by absorbing oxygen through their skin and retaining it until they return to the water.

    The critical factor for most fish is the moisture of their gills. As long as their gills remain damp, they can continue to absorb oxygen. If a fish lands on absorbent material after leaping out of an aquarium, its body will undergo a faster deterioration.

    How long will a fish survive in the water?

    Understanding the likelihood of fish survival in water depends on the conditions in the water. For example, if a fish jumps out of an aquarium and lands on a non-absorbent surface with some water, it can survive by extracting oxygen from the water as long as its gills remain moist.

    Here are a few types of fish that can endure the longest when removed from water.

    Factor That Affects the Duration of Fish Survival Out of Water

    1) Species

    Understanding the probability of a fish’s survival in water depends on the circumstances in the water. For instance, if a fish leaps out of an aquarium and lands on a non-absorbent surface with some water, it can survive by extracting oxygen from the water as long as its gills stay moist.

    Here are a few types of fish that can endure the longest when removed from water.

    2) Metabolic Rates

    It’s referred to as the oxygen consumption in fishes, offering insights into the amount of energy a fish needs to sustain itself. The metabolic rate of fish is influenced by environmental conditions, particularly temperature, which also affects their body temperature. Fish that thrive in colder temperatures exhibit a slower metabolic rate, enabling them to survive out of water for extended periods.

    3) Oxygen Demand

    Apart from those who live in colder climates and have lower metabolic rates, They also have lower demands for oxygen and are more resistant to stress in the absence of water.

    Pet Fish

    Domesticated fish, like rainbowfish and goldfish, are more delicate compared to saltwater fish. Additionally, they possess smaller bodies and gills, making them susceptible to rapid suffocation and potential death within about three to four minutes without gill movement. Consequently, it is imperative not to keep them out of water for an extended period, ensuring the water they are placed in is suitable for their survival.

    How long is it possible to keep fish from the in the water?

    Keeping a fish out of the water for an extended period is generally not advisable for the well-being of your aquarium or pet fish. Prolonged oxygen deprivation can be a distressing experience for fish. However, if circumstances demand it or if it happens accidentally, understanding how long your fish can survive out of water becomes crucial.

    In cases where your goldfish inadvertently leaps out of its bowl and lands on the ground, gasping for air, it’s essential to consider the specific type of fish you have and the reasons behind keeping it out of the water.

    Additionally, some fish undergo the estivation process when they need to stay in a dry area for an extended period. During estivation, they create a natural cocoon, bury themselves in the mud, and enter a state of dormancy that can last up to a year. This process is typically employed during dry seasons when natural water sources are depleting, and fish lack the required oxygen. When a fish is removed from the water, it may become fatigued and may need to adapt through alternative means, hence the estivation process.

    How Long Can a Fish Survive Out of Water?

    Let’s break it down into a few categories for the sake of accuracy.

    Goldfish (and other fish species that are pet)

    The survival duration of your fish outside of water is influenced by whether they are freshwater or saltwater species. Freshwater fish, characterized by delicate gills and smaller bodies, are more vulnerable and typically face rapid demise without water, lasting usually up to 10 minutes. If they are agitated and unable to calm themselves, this time frame could be reduced to less than one minute.

    On the other hand, saltwater fish generally have a longer survival period, though it typically does not extend beyond 10 minutes. There are occasional instances where saltwater fish can endure up to 20 minutes, particularly when placed on non-absorbent surfaces.

    Large Ocean Fish

    Can you recall the fish species that are capable of breathing above the ocean’s surface? These include Blue whales with short beaks, beluga whales, sperm whales, and other large marine creatures. Interestingly, they are mammals frequently mistaken for fish due to their marine habitat.

    Mammals, as a category, possess lung-like organs and can hold their breath for extended periods underwater. While they can stay on land for prolonged periods, they eventually need to return to the ocean to maintain their bodily functions; otherwise, their weight could lead to organ compression. Fortunately, this unique characteristic enables whales, dolphins, and certain species of pinnipeds to entertain us both in the water and on land.

    Amphibious fish

    Amphibious fish distinguish themselves from other fish species by their ability to remain out of the water for extended periods. Unlike many fish that spend the majority of their lives submerged, these amphibious fish may opt to inhabit the land for extended durations.

    An example of such a species is the Atlantic Mudskipper (Periophthalmus barbarus). These fish possess unique adaptations that allow them to extract oxygen through a specially designed lining in their throats. While in the water, they utilize functional gills. With these adaptations, they spend the majority of their lives outside of water.

    Mangrove Killifish The Mangrove killifish, also known as mangrove rivulus, is another amphibious species. Remarkably, they can survive for up to a month without access to water. Research indicates that they absorb oxygen through their skin when not in the water and store it in their bodies. Upon returning to the water, they expel the stored oxygen from their guts.


    Eels are ray-finned, elongated fish that are often seen floating on sand and rocks. They can leap over obstacles as they swim downstream like dams and have developed breathing holes in their skin. They reside in the shallow oceans and can burrow into mud, sand and hide in rocks too.

    Aquarium plant divider

    Typically, fish can survive for approximately 10 minutes outside of water, and their chances of survival decrease if they land on an absorbent surface. Nevertheless, saltwater fish generally endure longer, and specific species, like amphibious fish, possess unique adaptations enabling them to stay out of water for extended periods.

    Rockskipper Fish

    Also known as coral blennies, these freshwater fish thrive in dynamic environments with exposed habitats. Renowned for their leaping or skipping behavior between rock pools, seeking mates and new habitats, they can remain on the ground for extended periods. Typically found in shallow waters, they hide among rocks or navigate through rubble and breakwaters.

    Climbing Perch

    Native to Asian countries, particularly China and India, this fish belongs to the lungfish category, possessing both lungs and gills. Considered an invasive species, it has the capacity to thrive and spread to other areas by hitching rides on fishing boats. There have been reports of its successful colonization outside its native habitats, including Papua New Guinea and Australia. Remarkably, it can survive on land for 6 to 10 hours, showcasing adaptability through its unique body movements that enable it to traverse challenging environments.


    Mudskippers are petite amphibious fish capable of spending their entire lives on land. Their skin contains superficial blood vessels, allowing them to absorb oxygen directly into their bloodstream without relying on lungs or gills for respiration.

    Snakehead Fish

    This species is prevalent in specific areas of Africa and Asia, characterized by its amphibious nature and elongated body. Known as predators, they follow a carnivorous diet, preying on plankton, smaller fish, and even rats.

    Certain types of snakeheads have the ability to remain out of the water for up to six days, with some managing to stay on land for months while seeking new habitats.

    Anglers dealing with this fish should exercise caution when handling it for an extended period, as it might slither away and potentially capture unsuspecting prey.

    Walking Catfish

    This specific fish species possesses an extra organ that aids its gills in extracting oxygen from the air we breathe. Through flexing their muscles and utilizing their pectoral fins as propellants, they can “walk” or wiggle on land. After significant rainstorms, you might observe them on roads.


    A rare and distinctive species with only six species remaining, found exclusively in South America, Australia, and Africa. Aptly named lungfish, they inhabit freshwater environments such as rivers and lakes. Descendants of the ancient Osteichthyes, they are the sole fish species capable of breathing oxygen on land. Possessing lungs, lobed fins, and a complete internal skeleton inherited from Sarcopterygii, lungfishes depend on both lungs and gills. As their habitats tend to dry up, they enter an aestivation stage, during which they exclusively use their lungs and can endure for up to four years.

    Why Do Fish Leave the Water?

    For reasons of survival, unique fishes may remain out of the waters for the following reasons:
    A) to avoid predators;
    B) to avoid polluted waters and if the present environment is low in oxygen levels.
    C) to avoid the water that is beginning to warm;
    D) looking for food, mates and the biome of today is drying out or changing.

    The time of life will be dependent on the species.

    Certain species have the ability to survive in water for more extended periods compared to others. The crucial factor determining the duration is the specific species. Some may perish within minutes or seconds, such as pet fish, while others, like amphibious species, can endure for an extended time in water. Whether you are fishing or simply replacing the water in your goldfish tank, it is essential to prevent prolonged exposure to a lack of water.

    Fishes That Can Breathe Out of Water

    They are unique fish that can live and thrive on land for long periods. They are more resilient than their cousins, They might not be considered pets that are kept in aquariums, but they’re certainly captivating creatures.

    In Summary

    Typically, fish can survive for approximately 10 minutes out of the water, but their survival time may be shorter if they land on an absorbent surface. Saltwater fish generally have a longer survival period, and specific species, such as amphibious fish, possess unique adaptations that enable them to endure longer periods out of water.

    Diverse species of fish exhibit various behaviors and adaptations. These marine creatures are not confined to living exclusively underwater; instead, they employ a range of strategies for activities like habitat exploration, mating, and seeking food. While most of our knowledge about fish pertains to their underwater lives, it is crucial for fishkeepers to uphold these conditions and not overtax the capabilities of their aquatic companions. Some fish species are amphibious, while others rely on air, yet all fish, regardless of their specific adaptations, require oxygen for their survival.

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