February 28

How Long Can A Fish Live Out of Water? Amazing Facts


If you have an aquarium at home or simply love fish, you have perhaps wondered how long do fish live out of water? It’s a very pertinent question. You have probably seen some fish survive longer without water while others die in a few moments. 

So, what’s their deal? Do fish breathe air?

Like humans, fish also depend on oxygen. However, they have a different respiratory system. A fish has gills and tiny blood vessels on the surface of gills.

Fish in water extract oxygen from water and discharge waste with the help of these gills. So if you take a fish out of the water, you can see its gills expand and collapse.

Some fish species can survive for a few hours, even days, without water if their gills are wet. They keep absorbing oxygen; others die within seconds on some absorbent surface because they can’t take oxygen directly from the air.

Survival of Fish Without Water

How long can a fish live out of water depends on the species and condition outside water? If they are on the non-absorbent surface, they can survive as long as their gills stay moist.

Some of the fishes that can survive the longest and shortest without water are as follows.

Pet Fish 

goldfish on water

A Goldfish is the most common pet fish. The survival of pet fishes outside water depends on whether they are freshwater or saltwater fish. Freshwater fishes have fragile gills. So pet fish in a bowl die quickly outside of water.

The maximum time of their survival is 10 minutes, but they can die within a minute if they jump outside the aquarium and panic. Saltwater fishes can sometimes survive up to 20 minutes.

Amphibious Fish 

mudskipper on land

Amphibious fishes can survive for several days, even months, without water. Some amphibious fishes like Atlantic mudskipper spend more of their lives on land instead of water. 

Atlantic mudskipper has a special lining in its throat that helps them breathe oxygen, and it uses its gills when it is underwater. Atlantic mudskippers live almost 75% of their lives outside water. 

Mangrove killifish is also an amphibious fish. It can live on land for up to two months. Mangrove killifishes can absorb oxygen from the air through their skin.

These fish are found in parts of the Atlantic and Caribbean. Mangrove killifish are marine water fishes but sometimes live in freshwater habitats such as mangrove forests. 

Another example of amphibious fishes is rock skipper fish. These freshwater fish skip around from place to place. They try to find new water habitats and go on land to find mates.

    Rock skipper fishes can stay on land for several hours if moist.

    Large Ocean Fish

    large fishes

    Large ocean fishes like dolphins, whales, sharks are not fishes. They are mammals. As they spend their whole life underwater, that’s why they are mistaken as fish.

    These creatures have lungs, so they come to the surface of the water to breathe through their blowhole. Once the creature breathes, the blowhole closes so that water doesn’t enter the lungs when it goes underwater.

    When these animals come to the surface of the water to breathe, their blowhole opens and they blow water from the blowhole. It creates a spectacular view. 

    Sharks can live outside of water for up to 11 hours. 

    Walking Catfish 

    walking catfish

    There is a kind of fish that can walk on land. Catfishes can adapt to different water and land conditions. They have an extra organ that is separate from gills that helps them breathe air.

    Therefore, they can survive for a good time on land.

    These air-breathing fish are sometimes kept alive for sale purposes. It can be put in a large bowl with very little water to keep it moist. Catfish can survive in such conditions for several hours.

    Snakehead Fish

    Northern Snakehead

    These freshwater fishes can survive very long without water. They travel on land to find new habitats, and they can stay there for up to 6 days and sometimes even months. Snakehead fishes are common in parts of Africa and Asia.

    Climbing Perch 

    Climbing Perch

    These fishes can also breathe out of the water, and they can survive for up to ten hours if they remain moist. Climbing perch is commonly found in India and China. They are a popular food source in these countries mainly because they can be kept fresh in a very little amount of water. 

    Salmon Fish 

    salmon fish

    Salmon fish can not survive for more than 10 minutes when kept out of water. But some of them can live for a longer period. Salmons jump out of the water while swimming or going down the waterfalls.

    These jumps do not harm them as they are not out from the water for a longer period.



    As their name indicates, these fishes have developed lungs along with gills. So they breathe with their lungs when on land and can survive for a long time.

    When fish’s watery homes dry up during droughts, these fishes go into a dormant state. These fishes solely breathe through their lungs during dormancy. They can survive for up to 4 years before they go into the water once again.



    Survival of carps outside the water body depends on weather conditions. If kept out of the water, they can’t survive for more than ten minutes on a warm day. But they can survive outside water for up to 15 minutes on a cold or rainy day.

    Carps have a strange ability to survive in water with very low oxygen levels. They can sometimes survive for months in water that has almost no oxygen. That’s why they can also survive on land for a longer period. 

    Final Thoughts

    How long a fish can live without water depends on its different types. Some fish, like amphibious, have certain adaptations. Therefore, they can live longer.

    Others like pet fish die quickly if they land on absorbent surfaces. Still others like carp require less oxygen to survive for a longer time. So, they can also live longer. 

    On average, a fish can live for about 10 minutes outside of water if its outer body stays moist.  


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