Archer Fish – A Complete Care Guide

While Archer fish look pretty ordinary to most people, their adventurous nature, unique way of targeting their prey, and peaceful temperament bind you to know more about them.

They are always looking for opportunities to show their highly skilled approach to shooting water exactly where their prey sits.

Handling them is easy and fun. You can always adapt to changes in their aquarium as long as you adhere to their primary care requirements.

In this article, I’ll go over all the basics. From understanding their natural habitat conditions to helping them get along with other fish species, you can learn everything in detail here.

Key Takeaways

  • Archer fish are brackish water fish that grow up to 12 inches in the wild.
  • They can thrive in freshwater but they highly prefer brackish waters.
  • Their ability to hunt down their prey by shooting a strong jet of water makes them unique in and outside the aquarium domain.

An Overview of Archer Fish

Scientific NameToxotes Jaculatrix
Common NamesBanded Archerfish, Small Scale Fish, Spinner Fish, Shooting Fish
FamilyToxotidae
OriginAustralia, Philippines, Thailand, India, Polynesia, Indo Pacific
DietOmnivore
Care LevelModerate
ActivityActive
Lifespan5 to 10 years
TemperamentPeaceful but territorial
Tank LevelTop
Minimum Tank Size55 gallons
Temperature Range77 to 85°F (25-31°C)
Water Hardness10 to 30 KH
pH Range6.0 to 7.5
Filtration/Water FlowModerate
Water TypeBrackish
BreedingEgg Layer
Difficulty to BreedHard
CompatibilityBrackish water tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What Is An Archer Fish?

Archer fish (t jaculatrix) are little hunters that never run out of mischief when it comes to insects.

They are scientifically known as Toxotes Jaculator and commonly go with the names Spinner fish and Small Scale fish. They are a part of the Toxotidae family from the order Perciformes.

They usually stay calm around other fish. But it doesn’t take them long to show territorial aggression around fish of their own kind.

If you’re a beginner or someone who knows their way around different types of fish, they are a perfect fit for you in either case.

Origin and Habitat

Archer Fish is a famous inhabitant of clean water and marine water of India, Thailand, Polynesia, Australia, and the Philippines. They were first discovered in 1816 by the English botanist and zoologist George Kearsley Shaw.

In the wild, these fish scatter around darker areas covered with thick vegetation that hangs above the surface. This helps them gun down their potential prey through their wonderful skills.

The archerfish species doesn’t restrict their habitats to one place as they tend to hang out toward the open sea. Some of these species thrive in freshwater while others have weak tolerance for it.

Another reason they don’t swim their way to freshwater lands is the difficulty in chasing down insects. Mangrove swamps allow them to operate without compromising on water parameters and creating too much momentum.

Appearance

The Archer Fish looks somewhat subdued when it comes to physical traits. But despite not featuring mesmerizing colors, they are still beautiful and unique in their own way.

Archer Fish in Aquarium

They have an elongated body that looks somewhat compressed, giving the fish a thin appearance. The pointed face of the Archer fish adds up to their compressed look even further. This narrow profile helps them shoot down any floating insect almost seamlessly.

Their eyes are more enhanced when compared to most fish species in and beyond the aquarium domain. This binocular vision fits perfectly for the role of giving them access to clearer focus. It also helps them gauge longer distances between them and their prey.

One of the unique traits of Banded Archer fish is the movement of their mouths while hunting. They turn their mouth in a way that helps the tongue go above the surface and gun down insects. While their mouths work, the activity doesn’t disturb the momentum of their body.

Unlike most fish species, they have their dorsal fin and anal fin sitting on the far back of the body with the tail appearing beautifully rounded.

They feature lemon, aquamarine, and slightly brown backs. Their sides take on a subdued gray to a silver color.

Coming to bands, these fish trade different bands based on their species. They feature a silver-colored base with golden hues visible across the body and offer 6 vertical stripes. These bands travel from one side of their body to the other.

The first bar runs across the eye with the last going right before the well-rounded tail. The last stripe goes to the back end of their dorsal and anal fins, giving them their name Archer Fish.

Lifespan

The average life cycle of the Banded Archer fish is around 5 to 10 years in captivity.

If you want to see them living a long life, you have to take care of what goes and stays with them in their tank, what foods they prefer and what parameters are ideal for their healthy survival.

Average Size

The Archer fish can stretch themselves up to 12 inches in the wild. As for captive-bred fish, they find it somewhat demanding to grow as big as the fish living in the wild.

Archer Fish Care

Environmental transitions can stress out any fish. And while you are eager to bring your favorite species to your home aquarium, you can’t overlook factors that contribute to conditioning them for the change. Archer fish care is pretty easy. If you are a beginner at fish keeping, you can still create ideal environment conditions for them to thrive.

Archer fish can put up with freshwater and marine water. It is primarily based on their species. But for most Archer fish, the absence of salt can be a challenging thing.

Another thing that has intrinsic value to their overall wellness is plant life. You have to supplement their tank with thick vegetation that they can use both for high oxygenated water and as an aid for hunting. Apart from this, choosing the right tank mates and a suitable tank also help them stay upbeat.

Aquarium Setup

Archer fish spend most of their time around the surface of the water. This makes their hunting easier and more precise.

Choosing the right type of aquarium is an important factor in their overall stability. You need to get a taller tank for a group of Archer fish. Make sure you give them plenty of space above the surface of the water so they can habitually jump at their prey.

You can go for a paludarium aquarium that looks like an enclosed space. It can help you give them active underwater life. And at the same time, it should give way for plants to grow above the surface.

Don’t forget to secure it with a tank lid. While chasing their prey, they are very likely to jump out of the tank which can result in serious injuries.

Tank Size

Archer fish are large though they don’t move around too often.

But given their size, you should get a minimum of 55 gallons for a single fish. Depending on their number, plants, and tank mates, the size can go up. For example, if you have a group of 5-6 Archer fish, get a 115-gallon tank.

Water Parameters

Banded Archer fish are not freshwater fish species. In fact, while setting up their tank, you have to fill two-thirds of the aquarium with brackish water.

Brackish water basically means a combination of clean water and salt water. Failing to meet these criteria can significantly shorten their lifespan.

Make sure you don’t go beyond the recommended range of these parameters:

  • Water temperature: 77 F° to 88 F°
  • pH levels: 7.0 to 8.0
  • Water hardness: 10 to 30 KH
  • Brackish water NaCl: 0.5 to 30 g/l
Pro Tip: To get the ideal high water salinity, add 10-12 teaspoons of salt to every 100 gallons of water.

Filtration and Aeration

To maintain a healthy aquarium environment, you need a strong filtration system for your pet. To filter their aquarium thoroughly, get at least a hang on the back filter. Canister filters or sumps are ideal for aquariums that contain salt water.

Lighting

Since the fish swims on top water levels in their natural habitat, they can adjust themselves to bright lighting.

You can keep the lights dim throughout night hours though. But make sure the aquarium gets moderate exposure to sunlight so the plants can grow.

Aquatic Plants and Decorations

For clean water tanks, you have plenty of options to choose from since the plants can grow and give a well-oxygenated environment to the fish. But in this situation, you have to be careful. Not all plants can resist stronger salt concentrations.

As for caves, you don’t need to create or buy any caves because the fish stay around top water areas. As a good alternative to caves, plants that grow above the water’s surface can work.

Here’s a list of some of the best aquarium plants you can introduce to your aquarium. These plants can easily grow in brackish tanks.

Make sure whatever plant you go for, should have overhanging leaves. It will help the fish while hunting down their live food.

Tank Maintenance

Tank maintenance can be slightly tough due to plants and water setup. But if you want your fish to live happily, you should clean the tank every now and again.

Start with cleaning the tank walls. Don’t forget the top section since they inhabit the top levels. Trimming the plants is also good to control their growth. You should also focus on tank corners for dust and debris.

Substrate

A mix of gravel and sand can work perfectly well for Archer fish. They don’t travel to lower levels therefore substrate is not an issue here. You can also add some rocks that are rounded.

Community Tank Mates

Due to the complexity of water conditions, selecting ideal mates is time-consuming and pretty challenging.

You have to find them tank mates that align with their size, nature, and on top, water conditions. Although they are peaceful around other fishes, they act hostile around fish of their own kind. If you have a school of Banded Archer fish, you should get another school of fish from a different kind.

They are designed to target any insect. If not insects, they can eat smaller fish.

You can pair up your fish with these fish:

  1. Knight Gobies
  2. Puffers
  3. Scats
  4. Monos
  5. Mollies
  6. Mudskippers
  7. Four eye fish
  8. Swordtails
  9. Clown Loaches

Clown Loaches can get along with them if you put the loaches on the low-end saltwater side. The others are also good and larger fish to group with them.

Poor Tank Mates

Any smaller fish or fish that is too large will be a bad choice. Also, make sure you don’t add freshwater fish to your list that don’t do well in higher salinity environments.

Breeding Banded Archer Fish

When it comes to breeding them in captivity, they are one of the hardest fish you will ever come across. You can’t tell their genders apart because they are not sexually dimorphic. Another reason is weak information on what conditions them to breed in their natural habitat.

These peaceful fish take at least a year to become sexually mature. In their native homes, they are known to breed once the wet season begins. They don’t spawn where they live. Rather, they retreat to saltwater reefs for spawning.

In a single spawning, the female lays up to 20,000 eggs, making it impossible to monitor in home aquariums. The eggs float on the water surface and within 12 hours get hatched.

Newly hatched fry are too small, only a few centimeters long. The fry doesn’t need to be around the father or the mother fish as they can survive on their own.

In their native towns, the fry feed on small insects. The interesting thing about Archerfish’s fry is the juveniles develop shooting abilities way before becoming mature.

Archer Fish Food and Diet

Archer fish are not picky eaters. Sometimes, they just need to practice their natural instincts of attacking to get happy.

As omnivorous and eager opportunists, they rely on their strength of capturing insects, bugs, flies, or whatever crosses their path.

As you already know, they remain near the surface awaiting their prey, so you need to replicate this condition. If any unlucky spider, bug, or insect sits on the leaves within the range of 5 feet, the first instinct of the fish is to shoot a stream of water at them. You can see some footage of their incredible ability from BBC below.

They do it by sucking water and placing their tongue on the top of their mouth. These streams are usually very powerful, making the insects fall directly into the water. In case the first attempt goes to waste, they shoot up to 8 jets in a single gulp of water.

They get a diverse range of diets in the wild. This helps them keep their eating habits intact. From eating smaller fish to insects that fly by, they can eat everything as long as they want.

In your home aquarium, you can get live foods such as bloodworms and earthworms. You can also feed them pellets, dried food, and frozen food. Since they stay on top, you have to get them food that doesn’t sink to the bottom until they are fully trained.

Teaching them to get sinking food is easy. All you have to do is use the tiny bits of moistened prawn. Stick these bits to the top of the aquarium. Another way to train them is to take a rod comprised of insects or bugs and place it just above the water level.

The initial practice would be like this. But with time, you would need to raise the pieces higher until they reach the surface. You will initially see them using their natural attaching methods. But with time, they will learn how to eat without doing any jumps. It will be challenging for them to do something like this though not impossible.

Apart from other live foods, you can feed them:

  1. Crickets
  2. Mosquitoes
  3. Spiders
  4. Crustaceans
  5. Cockroaches

Common Health Problems

They are susceptible to some common fish diseases. Luckily, if you give them their preferred environment, warding off these ailments becomes pretty easy for them.

Ich

Ich is a common fish disease caused by parasites.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Salt-like grains on gills and body
  • Constant scraping of the body against sharp objects
  • Abnormal hiding behavior

Fin Rot

Fin rot is another common disease that occurs usually due to bacterial infection.

Some common symptoms are:

  • White outline around fin edges
  • Ragged fins
  • Entire fin rotting

FAQs

Are Archer fish fresh or saltwater?

Archer fish are widely found in estuaries that contain brackish water. Since this type of water is a combination of both clean and salt water, they need a mix of both to survive. Make sure you don’t keep them in freshwater more than the recommended range.

How fast does an archer fish shoot water?

They are really fast when it comes to spitting water at their potential victims. It takes them approximately 4 hundredths of a second to get their job done. In simple words, they shoot water 10 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Why do archerfish spit water at bugs?

Like other fish that have their own ways of chasing their meals, they spit water at bugs so they can eat them. The attack is almost always really fast and precise that the prey doesn’t get enough time to leave the place.

Where To Buy Archer Fish

Banded Archer fish are usually found in specialty fish stores. You usually will not find them at chain pet stores. If you cannot find a reputable local fish store around you, I would recommend you purchase from an online vendor that has a guarantee on their livestock.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re looking for an interesting, beautiful fish to add to your community tank, the Archer Fish should be at the top of your list. These larger fish have great personalities and are sure to bring a little bit of excitement to any aquarium. Keep in mind that they can be difficult to breed, so if you’re up for the challenge be prepared for some trial and error. Have you kept a Banded Archer Fish before? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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