How Long Can a Fish Live Out of Water

If you have ever kept a fish tank, you should know that most fish can not leave from water for a long time. But do you know how long can different fish live out of water? If you know little about it. Just read on. This article will discuss how fish breathe and how long can fish live outside of water, including aquarium fish live out of water. You will walk away with a better understanding of fish.

Aquarium fish breathe in the water

Fish breathe through gills

Most fish can breathe in the water with the help of their gills. As fish open their mouth, water will pass through their gills, which absorb the dissolved oxygen in the water. And the tiny blood vessels on their gills enable the oxygen to get into the fish’s bloodstream.

While fish take in oxygen, they will produce carbon dioxide. To prevent fish from getting trapped in hard breathing, sometimes you need to add an air pump to aerate the water and improve the oxygen level in your tank. It is a mechanical device to circulate water with electricity. And it makes sense in oxygenating aquarium water, expelling excess carbon dioxide, and increasing water pressure.

Fish breathe through labyrinth organ

Aside from fish breathing with gills, some fish can take in oxygen directly and absorb oxygen into the bloodstream with the help of the labyrinth organ. Similar to the lungs, the organ is behind fish’s gills. However, the labyrinth fish is not born with a fully formed labyrinth organ. It is gradually formed as the fish grow up. And the organ is finally fully formed until the fish becomes mature.

Furthermore, the oxygen concentration of the water around the fish’s growth environment determines the size of the organ. And the two are negatively correlated. For example, if the labyrinth fish is in low oxygen areas, its labyrinth organ tends to be larger and more complex than that of those in rich oxygen areas. Nevertheless, although labyrinth fish can breathe via gills and labyrinth organs, the fish will breathe via the organ most of the time after it is fully formed.
aquarium fish live out of water

Fish breathe through respiratory systems

Additionally, amphibious fish are named air-breathing fish. They can breathe through gills or modified air bladder respiratory systems. Moreover, some fish have lungs to take in oxygen.

How long can a fish live out of water?

If fish are out of the water, how long can they live depends on whether their gills are wet or not. If the gills are dry, they will die quickly. Also, how long aquarium fish can survive out of water is determined by fish species, varying from a few minutes to a few months. Generally, once fish are taken out of the water, brackish water, saltwater, amphibious fish can live longer in comparison with freshwater fish. Because freshwater fish are commonly smaller and possess fragile gills.

Brackish water fish

Fish Out-of-water survival time
Mangrove killifish Several weeks or months
Archerfish A few minutes
Scats A few minutes
Pufferfish  A few minutes

If you are interested in brackish water fish, you can learn more in Brackish Water Fish And Aquarium and How to Care for Brackish Water Fish.

Freshwater fish

Fish Out-of-water survival time
Snakehead fish A few days
Tetras About 10 minutes
Goldfish Over a few minutes
Betta fish About one hour

Generally, freshwater fish can live outside of water for about 10–60 minutes. It depends on the fish species. Specifically, given below are examples.

  • Goldfish: They can live up to approximately ten minutes outside of water. However, sometimes they may die within one minute because of stress and panic.
  • Walking catfish: As they have an organ allowing gills to absorb oxygen from the air, they can live longer out of water, nearly 18 hours. The pectoral fins enable them to move on land.

Saltwater fish

Most saltwater fish can survive for about a few minutes or hours outside of water. Clownfish can live a few hours out of water. Furthermore, large saltwater fish can live several hours out of water. Because the large body size enables them to keep oxygen levels for a longer time. Blue whales, for example. They can live for a few hours outside of water.
can a fish live out of water

How long can amphibious fish live outside of water?

Amphibious fish can live longest outside of water. In general, amphibious animals can live both on land and in water. The common amphibious fish include Mudskippers, Lungfish, Bluespotted mudhopper, Shuttles hoppfish, etc. For instance, some freshwater snakehead fish are amphibious. They can survive in low-oxygen rivers and can live a few days outside of water.


Until now, have you known more about fish breathing? Some fish can not live longer outside of water. Thus, you should be cautious during the process of water changes, tank cleaning, and transportation. You can prepare another container to stock fish temporarily during the water changes process. By the way, oxygen deficiency, excess ammonia or nitrates, stress, polluted water, and illness will result in labored breathing fish. If you want to learn how to prevent fish from heavy breathing, you can read How to Treat a Fish with Heavy Breathing.

To conclude, the following factors affect the out-of-water survival time, including fish species, fish size, and environmental conditions. Freshwater fish can not survive for a long time outside of water. Plus, small fish live shorter than large fish out of water. Moreover, if your fish live on substances with great water-absorbing quality, they will not live longer outside of water. No matter what fish species are, they will die soon.

That’s it. If you have more ideas about this topic, welcome to share with us in the comment. We are happy to receive your sharing. Finally, thank you for reading. And we hope this article helps.

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