How Long Can a Fish Survive Out of Water?

how long can a fish survive out of water

Do you want to know how long a fish can survive without water? In this article, we offer the solution and explain why fish drown when they are removed from the water.

Any angler’s dream comes true when they reel in a large catch, but unless they intend to cook or preserve the fish, they will probably throw it back into the water. To prevent the fish from drowning while it is above the water, you must carefully time your photographs. But, of course, this begs the question, “How long can fish survive without water?”

Some fish can survive for a few minutes out of the water, some for a few hours, and some for even a few months! This primarily depends on the type of fish, the habitat or environment, and the length of the fish fight.

For more details, please keep reading.

How Long Can a Fish Survive Out of Water?

Depending on the species, a fish can survive outside of water for varying lengths of time. Freshwater fish typically have the shortest out-of-water survival times. Amphibious fish and saltwater fish can survive far longer when out of water. To comprehend these differences, let’s take a closer look at some different fish species.

Pet Fish

Pet Fish

The quickest time spent surviving outside of water belongs to pet fish. Nevertheless, the typical goldfish can endure outside of its tank for up to an hour.

Other varieties of pet fish, like betta fish, can endure two hours without water. Neon tetras and guppies, two of the tiniest aquarium fish species, can only survive ten minutes without water.

Freshwater fish can survive for up to an hour outside of water at most. Because of this, you must exercise caution when removing them from the water for transportation or catching-of-the-day photos.

It is important to remember that fish struggle to breathe when they are out of the water and eventually suffocate as their oxygen levels fall. Minimizing a pet fish’s time spent outside of the water is essential because this experience can be painful for the fish.

Amphibious Fish

Amphibious Fish

Fish that are amphibious have a greater chance of surviving outside of water. Although mud hoppers also belong to the amphibious group, lungfish and mudskippers are two of the most popular varieties of amphibious fish.

Amphibious fish, also known as air-breathing fish, have physical modifications that allow them to breathe using their skin, gills, or modified air bladder respiratory systems. Even some of these fish have lungs that can absorb dissolved oxygen from the air.

Snakehead fish are freshwater fish that can move briefly across dry land thanks to their small but strong pectoral fins. These fish can live for up to four days without water and in rivers and swamps with low oxygen levels.

These fish can eat small mammals, birds, and reptiles while they’re out of the water. One of the most terrifying species of amphibious fish, they have a number of sharp teeth that enable them to quickly devour their prey.

Fish that live in brackish water, also known as partially saltwater environments, include some species. For instance, in mangrove swamps, the mangrove rivulus, also known as the mangrove killifish, lives in brackish water.

This fish can live up to two months outside of the water! It consequently has the longest fish survivability period on dry land.

Large Ocean Fish

Large Ocean Fish

Recall the fish species that have the capacity to breathe the air above the water’s surface. We’re talking about beluga whales, short-beaked dolphins, blue whales, sperm whales, and other sizable aquatic animals. In actuality, these are ocean-dwelling mammals that are frequently mistaken for fish.

They can survive on land for months at a time because they are mammals with lungs, but eventually, they must go back to the water to support their bodies so that their weight doesn’t crush their organs.

Thankfully, this enables our favorite whales, dolphins, and pinniped species to entertain us on land and in the water.

Mangrove Killifish

Mangrove Killifish

The mangrove killifish, also known as the mangrove rivulus, is amphibious and can survive without water for about a month. According to research, they can absorb oxygen through their skin when they’re out of the water and have the ability to store them. Once they are submerged again, they simply resume using their gills.



Small amphibious fish called mudskippers can spend the majority of their lives on land. Since their skin has blood vessels near the surface from birth, they are able to absorb oxygen into their bloodstream without having to actively breathe through their gills or lungs.

Walking Catfish

Walking Catfish

One of the most notorious species of amphibious fish is the walking catfish. They have the ability to breathe underwater and move around on land with the help of their pectoral fins.

Though they can only survive up to about 18 hours outside of water, they can travel more than half a mile across the land! Additionally, these fish can survive in a variety of environments, including scorching asphalt parking lots.

These fish are regarded as invasive species because they can travel fairly far on dry land and endure several hours away from water. These creatures migrate to new habitats on their own, unlike other invasive fish species.

Why Does a Fish Die When Removed from Water?

In the absence of water, fish suffocate to death and perish. Just as you cannot survive without access to air. Fish get their oxygen when their gills dissolve it from the water and then absorb it into their bloodstream.

Fish that rely solely on their gills for breathing would not be able to take in oxygen from the air the way that humans do through their lungs.

The situation is analogous to how a human using his lungs would quickly suffocate and drown in water. The average lifespan of a fish is only a few seconds or minutes before they start to deteriorate.

When fish are taken out of the water, however, not all fish will perish right away. This can be a result of it still being wet or in watery surroundings even when it is not in water.

As long as there’s still some water on the gills of the fish, it can make use of the dissolved oxygen to breathe for some time. When removed from the water, some fish, like catfish, can maintain their life for up to 15 hours.

It is a known fact that fish in the wild will occasionally leave a water habitat if it is no longer safe or healthy for them. The water’s oxygen content can occasionally be so low that fish that need a lot of oxygen have a hard time surviving.

how long can a fish survive out of water

They thus have the capacity to leave such water conditions and look for a better habitat. Some fish leave their water habitats due to threats from predators.

Fish are also not particularly intelligent, so they could accidentally swim, get washed ashore, or even jump out on their own. Some people can survive in such situations, whereas others cannot.

It’s crucial to understand that after an hour without water flowing through its gills, the average fish will start to exhibit signs of exhaustion. When that happens, they’ll flail frantically and helplessly.

How Do Fish Breathe in the Water?

Knowing how fish live in water helps you to better understand why they cannot survive outside of it.

Similar to how humans need oxygen to breathe, fish also depend on it. If you’ve ever had an aquarium, it’s likely that you had an aerator for the fish’s water. Its function was to add oxygen to the water so that the fish could continue to breathe.

Fish use a different respiratory system than humans. Fish’s gills are responsible for processing all of the water they breathe in. The surface of the gills is lined with teeny blood vessels. By removing oxygen from the water and releasing waste, these vessels function.

how long can a fish survive out of water

Our lungs and gills function somewhat similar in terms of design. The main distinction is that, unlike our lungs, which separate the oxygen from other gases in the air and retain it, this process involves absorbing atmospheric oxygen.

Consequently, you will observe a fish’s gills repeatedly expanding and contracting when you remove it from the water. This movement is because they are trying to breathe in. Despite being surrounded by oxygen, they can no longer use it.

Breathing on land is where the differences are between various species of fish. The gills and respiratory systems of some fish will shut down in a matter of seconds. Some people have a few days of life. They can do this because they have a way of absorbing oxygen through their skin or storing it inside them until they get back into the water.

For many fish, whether or not their gills remain moist is crucial. As long as their gills are still moist, they can at least continue to absorb some oxygen. However, a fish will pass away much more quickly if it jumps out of an aquarium and lands on something absorbent.

In Summary: How Long Can a Fish Survive Out of Water?

Fish can survive outside of water for around 10 minutes on average, but if they land on an absorbent surface, they may perish much more quickly. Although some species, like amphibious fish, have special adaptations that allow them to survive for a very long time outside of the water, saltwater fish typically live longer.

One thing is certain: Don’t let your goldfish go for an extended period without water, whether you’re going fishing or just changing the water.

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