Fish With Legs: 15 Walking on the Wild Side of Underwater Life!

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Did you know that fish can walk? Sure, most fish flap around like a fish out of water when they are, um, out of water, but some species do just fine on hard surfaces! In this post, we’ll meet 15 strange and unusual walking fish species.

Let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Many species of marine and freshwater fish have evolved to walk along sea beds and coral reefs or even leave the water to move over land.
  • While certain fish do have leg-like limbs, none have true legs like four-legged land-dwelling animals (tetrapods)
  • Many walking fish use their strong pectoral fins to pull themselves along, but some species also use their pelvic fins like hind legs
  • Many fascinating fish with legs are available in the aquarium hobby, but they should only be kept in aquariums or large paludariums with good water quality and plenty of swimming space

Do Fish Have Legs?

There are many examples of fish with leg-like fins, but no modern fish with true legs. Having ‘legs’ helps these species move, feed and escape predators and dangerous conditions.

However, fish have a very limited ability to survive outside of the water. No matter how leg-like a fish’s limbs may appear, they are still technically fins, and fish must keep their skin wet to survive out of water.

Keep reading to learn more about how fish use their legs.

Can They Walk On Land?

There are many fish that can walk out of water but most save this ability for desperate times when their homes are drying up or they need to find a new water body to live in.

Fish like walking catfish can cover pretty impressive distances to find a new pool, but they can’t live out of the water forever.

However, some fish actually prefer to stay out of the water. Mudskipper fish can drag themselves around on land, dig burrows, end even climb on tree roots, and they spend most of their time in the open air.

Then you get fish with leg-like structures that never leave the water at all. Instead, these fish use their ‘legs’ to walk along the ocean floor or crawl around on the reef.

Why Walk In The Water?

You’re probably wondering why a fish would choose to walk on the bottom of the sea rather than simply swim. Let’s take a look at a few benefits of walking:

Energy Saving

The current is a lot weaker at the bottom, so fish can save energy by staying down low. Friction from contact with the ground also keeps them from drifting even in a weak current.

Camouflage

Some fish with legs look just like the reef or ocean floor where they live. By walking around slowly they can fool their prey into coming close enough to catch, sort of like an invisibility cloak.

Safety

Looking like the ground also keeps marine walking fish safe from predators who can’t see them. Walking species like the batfish and frogfish are not the greatest swimmers, so they’d have no chance of escape if a predator found them up in the open water.

The First Tetrapods (Land Animals)

Scientists believe the first vertebrate animals left the water to walk on land nearly 400 million years ago. It was a gradual process, but those extinct fish species paved the way for humans and land animals to walk the earth.

This happened when fish evolved lungs to breathe air and modified fins that allowed them to leave the water. They dragged themselves around with their pectoral fins then, just a little at first, but more and more over time.

15 Fish With Legs

Are you ready to walk through our list of 15 amazing fish with legs? The great thing about this list is that many of the species make great aquarium pets. Just don’t try to fit number 15 into that fish tank in your living room!

Let’s dive in.

1. Axolotl

Wild Type Axolotl
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma mexicanum
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats small fish, insects, and even other salamanders
  • Size: 9 – 12 inches (sometimes up to 18 inches)
  • Origin: Mexico (Mexico City)
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Ok, so Axolotls aren’t technically fish, but they are great fish tank pets, so we just had to include them here! The axolotl, or Mexican walking fish, is an adorable salamander species from a couple of lakes in Mexico.

Unlike regular salamanders, these unusual aquatic creatures never outgrow their gills and webbed feet, so they live under the water all their lives – making them in essence a four leg fish.

Sadly, this fish-like creature is now critically endangered in its natural habitat due to pollution, drainage, and other environmental problems, but they live on in the aquarium hobby all over the world.

Mexican walking fish make great pets, and their albino form is a truly eye-catching creature in a freshwater aquarium. These guys need cool water and a tank of at least 20 gallons to thrive.

2. Hillstream Loaches

Hillstream Loach in Tank
  • Scientific Name: Sewellia sp. etc.
  • Diet: Omnivore, eats small invertebrates, algae, and biofilm
  • Size: 2.5 inches
  • Origin: Asia
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Hillstream loaches are a strange group of fish. Scientists have discovered that several species have the ability to walk on land due to their enlarged pelvic girdle.

You’re not likely to see your regular reticulated hillstream loach walking on dry land, but they are clearly adapted to move over the rocky bottom of fast-flowing streams.

However, the cave angelfish, a tiny blind species from Southeast Asia is well known for its ability to climb waterfalls. Its special skeletal structure might give us living insights into the way legs first developed in aquatic animal life.

3. Dinosaur Bichir

Bichir Fish in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Polypterus senegalus
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats aquatic invertebrates and other fish
  • Size: 14 inches
  • Origin: Africa
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

The dinosaur bichir is an awesome freshwater species with the amazing ability to move on land. These fish can breathe below and above the water. Dinosaur bichirs use a wriggling serpentine motion and their specially adapted fins to propel them across the ground.

This is a fish with legs that you can keep in a larger home aquarium, but I don’t recommend taking this pet out for walks!

4. Mudskipper

Mudskipper Fish
  • Scientific Name: Periopthalmus sp., etc.
  • Diet: Omnivore, most species eat small crustaceans and other tiny creatures
  • Size: up to 12 inches
  • Origin: Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania
  • Type: Brackish
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Mudskippers are amazing animals. They are the only fish with legs that spend more time out of the water than in it! They walk using their modified pectoral and pelvic fins and can leap into the air with their tails.

Mudskippers live in mangrove environments and dig burrows where they hide when the tide goes out. They love hanging out on tree roots above the water, and they can even bounce over the surface of the water like a skimming stone!

5. Warty Frogfish

Warty Frogfish
  • Scientific Name: Antennarius maculatus
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats other fish
  • Size: Up to 6 inches
  • Origin: Tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Our next fish walks under the water, rather than on land. The colorful warty frogfish is a member of the anglerfish family that crawls around on the reef looking for a great spot to hunt.

These highly camouflaged creatures look just like the corals where they live, so small fish that swim too close don’t stand a chance when the frogfish opens its huge mouth!

6. Sea Robin

Small Sea Robin
  • Scientific Name: Prionotinae subfamily
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats mollusks and other invertebrates
  • Size: 4 to 17 inches
  • Origin: Pacific and Atlantic Oceans
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Sea robins, or red gurnard as they are also known walk comfortably along the seabed using their pelvic fins, which are modified into 6 leg-like rays just behind and below their head.

Although they can swim like regular fish, these amazing creatures look almost like insects as they crawl around looking for their next meal. Those strange legs also come in handy for digging up food under the sand- bonus!

7. Snakeheads

Snakehead fish
  • Scientific Name: Channa spp.
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats various species, including small fish, frogs, and even birds
  • Size: 6 – 36 inches
  • Origin: Asia and Africa
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes but with specific regulations in the USA

There are over fifty snakehead fish species out there, ranging from the colorful rainbow snakehead at about 6 inches to large fish like the giant snakehead that can reach nearly 5 feet!

These freshwater fish have the ability to breathe and walk on land, which helps them move between different pools and swamps.

Unfortunately, they have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. These aggressive Asian fish have escaped captivity and are now invasive in the United States.

8. Red Lipped Batfish

Red Lipped Batfish
  • Scientific Name: Ogcocephalus darwini
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats marine invertebrates and small fish
  • Size: Up to 16 inches
  • Origin: Pacific Ocean near Galapagos islands
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Rare

The red lipped batfish is another strange bottom dweller from the anglerfish family group that walks along the ocean floors in search of crustaceans and other aquatic creatures to snack on.

Wondering why they’re called bat fish? These bottom-dwellers have bent pectoral fins and they look a lot like bats as they crawl along the ground.

The red lipped batfish won’t win any beauty contests, but they sure are interesting to look at! This particular species is rarely available in the aquarium trade, but other species do turn up for sale.

9. Walking Catfish

  • Scientific Name: Clarias batrachus
  • Diet: Omnivore, hunts and scavengers for invertebrates, vertebrates, and plant matter
  • Size: Up to 20 inches
  • Origin: Java
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Invasive species, Illegal in some states

The Walking catfish (video source) is a large freshwater catfish with the amazing ability to leave the water and walk on land!

These hardy fish must stay wet to survive, but they can breathe air and propel themselves forward by using their pectoral fins and wriggling in a swimming motion.

Like many other ‘amphibious fish’ the walking catfish is a mostly aquatic species. However, they live in muddy, shallow water bodies, so the ability to crawl over to a new pool can really save their skin!

10. Polypterus Lapradei

Polypterus lapradei
  • Scientific Name: Polypterus lapradei
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats various aquatic creature species
  • Size: Can reach over 2 feet
  • Origin: Africa
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

Polyperus lapradei is a species of bichir fish from Africa that can walk across land using its pectoral fins and even breathe air using its swim bladder.

These prehistoric ray finned fish fish look almost like a cross between a dinosaur and an eel, and they are popular with fish keepers.

11. Spotted Handfish

  • Scientific Name: Brachionichthys hirsutus
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats small marine invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Origin: Tasmania
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: No

The spotted handfish (video source) is beautiful fish that is seriously threatened with extinction. These tiny fish lie in wait or walk along the ocean floor in shallow waters around the Derwent River in Tasmania with their hand-like pectoral fin structures, hoping to find their next meal.

They have pectoral fins similar to batfish, but these threatened bottom dwellers differ by having all the usual fish fins in good proportions, including a large tail and dorsal fin.

12. West African Lungfish

  • Scientific Name: Protopterus annectens
  • Diet: Omnivore, eats plant material and small animals like snails, frogs, and fish
  • Size: 3 feet
  • Origin: Widespread in Africa
  • Type: Freshwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

The West African lungfish (video from SC Fish Keeping) is one of the closest living relatives to tetrapods (four-legged land animals), and this strange, eel-like fish with legs can take just about anything nature throws at it!

They have elongated pelvic and pectoral fins that they use to walk along the bottom of swamps, and that’s not the strangest thing about them. Their natural habitat dries up each year, and these fish have a special way of surviving.

This fascinating species can breathe air, and they will bury themselves under the mud to get out of the baking African sun. They secrete a mucus coating that keeps them safe and moist until the rains come and unlock them from their underground hideout.

13. Tripod Spiderfish

  • Scientific Name: Bathypterois grallator
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats tiny fish and crustaceans
  • Size: 17 inches
  • Origin: Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: No

These deep-sea fish live down at the bottom (video source). They have long projections from their pelvic fins and tail that create three leg-like structures which are good for standing but not walking. Their pectoral fins are also long, but these are held upwards to feel for passing prey.

But why would a fish want to stand above the sea floor? Well, swimming takes energy, so tripod fish have developed to rest while waiting for food to drift by them. Pretty smart!

14. Epaulette Shark

  • Scientific Name: Hemiscyllium ocellatum
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats crabs and polychaete worms
  • Size: Up to 3 feet
  • Origin: Australia and New Guinea
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: Yes

The epaulette shark is a small species from shallow tropical waters around Australia. These fish can survive in shallow pools when the tide goes out, but they can even walk over the exposed ground if they need to find deeper water.

The epaulette shark is available in the aquarium hobby, but they are only suitable for experienced aquarists with big tanks and big budgets!

15. Coelacanth

  • Scientific Name: Latimeria chalumnae
  • Diet: Carnivore, eats slow-moving fish and cephalopods like squid and cuttlefish
  • Size: over 6 feet
  • Origin: Indian Ocean off Southern and East Africa
  • Type: Saltwater
  • Available to Hobbyists: No

The West Indian Ocean coelacanth (video source) is a remarkable fish that scientists believed went extinct millions of years ago until one was caught off the South African coast in 1938!

Although they are often known as ‘old four legs’ these ancient fish do not actually walk but rather use their strange lobed fins for swimming.

FAQs

What are fish with legs called?

‘Walking’ fish belong to many different families and there isn’t one good definition for all of them. These unique fish species range from creatures that leave the water and breathe air to those that simply crawl around on reefs or walk across the ocean floor.

Fish species that leave the water are known as amphibious fish, and those that walk can be called ambulatory fish.

How many fishes have legs?

There are no fish species with true legs. However, many species have modified fins that they can use for crawling, standing, and even walking. only a very small percentage of the over 30,000 species of fish in the world have this ability.

What is the name of the fish with 4 legs?

The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is a huge species of prehistoric lobe finned vertebrate that was discovered alive and well less than a century ago. This strange species is also known as ‘old four legs’ because its pelvic and pectoral fins resemble legs.

What are legs on a fish called?

Fish ‘legs’ are actually modified fins. Many species with walking capabilities have pectoral fins and pelvic fins that are sturdy and shaped like simple legs. In some species like the sea robins, individual fin rays act like legs, which is why these strange fish appear to be walking on six legs!

Do fish have 4 legs?

Fish do not have four legs like tetrapods or land animals. Fish have fins rather than legs, although many species have modified pectoral fins that they can use similar to the way land animals use their legs.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, many fish have ‘legs’, but not exactly in the way land mammals do. The wonderful thing about the fishkeeping hobby is that there’s always new and peculiar fish to learn about, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief ‘walk-through’ of fifteen fascinating fish with legs.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even keep some of these fish in your own tank someday!

What’s your favorite fish with legs? Let us know in the comments below!

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