10 Fish That Breathe Air (With Images)

Air breathing fish

Fish commonly breathe by absorbing oxygen from water.

However, some fish breathe air directly. So let’s take a look at these fish.

10 Fish That Can Breathe Air

1. Lungfish


Lungfish are freshwater creatures known for their ability to breathe air.

Six known lungfish species inhabit the waters of Africa, Australia, and South America.

They have an extremely advanced respiratory system that allows them to breathe air directly.

These fish usually live in shallow waters but are also found in large lakes and rivers.

Lungfish have an elongated body covered by fleshy, paired pectorals, pelvic fins, and a caudal fin.

Lungfish species typically have two lungs, except for the Australian lungfish, which has one lung.

Besides, the Australian lungfish breathes through its gills without taking in oxygen from its lungs.

The African and South American lungfish are known to survive the seasonal dry habitats by burrowing into mud and remaining dormant throughout the dry season.

However, these fish can also survive on land, without water, for months, sometimes even years.

2. Snakehead

Snakehead Fish
Snakehead Fish

The snakehead is a freshwater perciform fish family native to Africa and Asia.

These elongated fish have giant mouths, long dorsal fins, and sharp, shiny teeth.

The snakehead has a suprabranchial organ or primitive lung for respiration.

It allows the fish to breathe air and live out of water for up to four days if they stay wet.

These fish are raised as pets, but as they grow big, people release them into ponds, lakes, or rivers.

In water, they feed on other fish or frogs. However, on land, they can devour small rodents like rats.

3. Mudskippers


Mudskippers are amphibious fish that inhabit the tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions of the indo-pacific and Africa to Australia.

These carnivorous fish use their fins to walk, jump and climb on land to catch prey.

They have an unusual appearance and ability to survive in and outside of water.

They also don’t have any particular organs for breathing air.

However, by staying moist, they can absorb oxygen through their skin and mouth lining.

The mudskippers spend most of their lives out of the water and enter it for short periods to moisten their fins and gills.

Staying too long in water can be fatal to a mudskipper.

Mudskippers’ eyes are adapted to see better on land than underwater because they spend so much time on land.

They can stay on land for up to 2 days before taking a dip in the water.

4. Walking Catfish

Walking Catfish

The walking catfish is an air-breathing catfish inhabiting Southeast Asia’s freshwaters.

The name is derived from its ability to wriggle and walk across dry land in search of food or shelter.

This fish can be found in slow-moving, often stagnant waters of ponds, swamps, streams, temporarily flooded rice paddies, and dried-up rivers and pools.

These catfish have both dorsal and anal fins, as well as several pairs of sensory barbels.

They have scaleless skin covered with mucus to protect them when out of water.

Their unique gill structure allows them to take in atmospheric oxygen.

They can survive on land for hours and sometimes even days.

However, walking catfish can only survive out of water when their skin is wet, so they usually travel on land during or after heavy rains.

5. Climbing Perch

Climbing Gourami

The climbing perch is also known as climbing gourami. This fish is native to Southeast Asia and Africa.

It can breathe air, which allows it to venture out of the water and walk short distances on land.

In addition to having gills, this fish also has lungs like humans, allowing it to breathe air on dry land.

This fish is an invasive species with the ability to survive up to 6 to 10 days without water.

The climbing perch can hibernate in mud for six months when the creek beds dry up.

Although this fish is a freshwater species, it can survive in saltwater.

When it encounters unfavorable environments like food scarcity, stiff competition, or water bodies drying out, it moves out to look for a new home.

6. Tarpons


Tarpons are fish that belong to the genus Megalops.

There are two species, one native to the Atlantic and the other inhabiting the Indo-Pacific.

These fish have large eyes and a broad mouth with prominent lower jaws.

Their entire body is covered with silvery scales, except their head.

Both the tarpon species can survive in marine and freshwater habitats.

They can also live in brackish waters with varying pH and low oxygen levels.

The tarpons have swim bladders, which they use primarily to breathe oxygen from the air.

As these fish are air breathers, they can perish without enough access to the water’s surface.

7. American Eels

American Eel

The American eels are found in the waters of the eastern coast of North America.

They live in freshwaters and migrate to the sea for spawning.

They have a slender body that resembles a snake.

Their body has minute scales, but the mucus layer on the body makes them appear slimy.

The American eels can breathe air through their skin, allowing them to travel over land and swim through barriers in streams.

8. Bettas


Bettas are popular aquarium fish, referred to as Siamese fighting fish.

They’re native to the shallow and slow-moving waters of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and parts of China.

Male bettas have bright colors and long flowing fins, which makes them popular with fish keepers.

In contrast, the females have pale colors and shorter fins.

Bettas can breathe oxygen from the air as they possess a labyrinth organ.

It allows them to take oxygen from the air instead of water, helping them survive in low oxygen environments.

Even though bettas do well in waters low in dissolved oxygen, it doesn’t mean they need less oxygen than other fish.

In the aquarium, they usually stay near the tank’s surface.

You can’t keep male bettas in one tank unless there are dividers between them.

You can keep female bettas together without problems. A single male can also be included in the group.

9. Gouramis

Pearl Gourami

Gouramis are freshwater fish that are native to Asia.

They can be found across the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Korean Peninsula.

Gouramis are popular aquarium fish throughout the world.

They’re sought after because of their bright coloration and relative intelligence to recognize their owners.

As labyrinth fish, these fish will often swim near the surface of the water to breathe air instead of taking in oxygen dissolved in the water.

Gouramis are known to nip fins of other fish.

Besides, the male gouramis should never be kept together, as they will become territorial and aggressive.

Given below are gourami species that are found in home aquariums. These fish can breathe oxygen from the air.

  • Blue gourami,
  • Chocolate gourami,
  • Croaking gourami,
  • Dwarf gourami,
  • Giant gourami,
  • Honey gourami,
  • Kissing gourami,
  • Moonlight gourami,
  • Paradise gourami,
  • Pearl gourami,
  • Powder blue gourami,
  • Snakeskin gourami,
  • Sparkling gourami, and
  • Three-spot gourami.

10. Arapaima


The arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche are any sizeable bony tongue species in the genus Arapaima.

These fish are native to the Amazon and Es­sequibo basins of South America.

They have a torpedo shape and large black-green scales with red markings.

They have a sleek, streamlined body with the dorsal and anal fins set close to their tail.

These fish have a labyrinth organ full of blood vessels that opens into their mouth.

They use this organ for breathing in oxygen-deprived waters in their habitat.

These fish are apex predators in lakes during the low-water season as there is no fresh water supply from the rivers, resulting in low oxygen levels.

The low oxygen level makes many fish inhabiting the lake lazy and vulnerable.

As a result, these fish have easy pickings. Besides, they can survive the conditions by breathing oxygen from the air.

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