Archer Fish Care: Lifespan, Tank Mates, Diet, & Health

Quick Stats

  • Family: Toxotidae
  • Scientific Name: Toxotes jaculatrix
  • Care level: Average
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Water conditions: Brackish and warm waters
  • Max Size: Twelve inches (no larger than six inches in captivity)
  • Minimum tank size (as an adult): 55 gallons

Brief Overview: Archer Fish Care

Archer fish are unique fish known for preying on insects and small animals by shooting them with water droplets created from their unique, specialized mouths. A rare species that is prized for its unique behavior and vibrant patterns, it is an excellent option for keeping in an aquarium as it gets along well with most other species.

The family of Archer fish is small, with only about ten species in a single genus. While only seven species are recognized formally by scientists and popular among aquarium hobbyists, these unique fish are one of the most fascinating kinds you can raise.

Native to freshwater rivers, these fish are typically found in Southeast Asia but are rapidly becoming popular aquarium fish species. These fish are one of only a few known species that have such complex visual processing abilities and are a fascinating species to keep in your home aquarium system.

Archer fish Appearance

When they are first born, archer fish are less than an inch in length. However, as juveniles, they grow quickly to two or two and a half inches in length. This is, of course, impacted by your tank size as well as the competition that they have in the tank.

How fast/slow should you expect them to grow?

Archer fish tend to grow more quickly in aquariums but won’t reach the same sizes as they do in the wild. Within a few months, these fish will grow quickly, slowing down as they reach lengths that are closer to their maximum length.

What’s archer fish max size?

Although archer fish vary in size and appearance depending on their age and species, they are generally about three to four inches in length. That being said, there are some species that can grow as large as sixteen inches long. This is rare, however, and most archer fish only reach about six inches in length in captivity.

Different types of archer fish

Archer fish have a unique appearance, with bodies that are laterally compressed. They have a lower jaw that juts out from beneath the upper. That said, despite the commonalities shared by the archer fish family in general, there are some differences between the different types of these popular species. While there are ten different types of archer fish, these are the most popular species as recognized by scientists and aquarium hobbyists.

Clouded Archer fish: Also known as the Zebra Archer fish, these fish are rare in the aquarium trade, largely because they tend to be more on the expensive side. They are peaceful and can survive easily in a community setting, growing to about four inches in length and sporting elegant gold-colored bodies.

Largescale Archer fish: Also known as the seven-spot archer fish, this variety grows to an impressive eight inches in length. It has a sooty color with dark-colored blotches and has an extra dorsal spine.

Banded Archer fish: Sporting black vertical bands over silver bodies, these fish grow to about six inches and length and can live up to ten years in captivity. They should not be kept with species that are small enough for them to eat. This is true of all archer fish, but particularly of the banded archer fish, which grows a bit larger and tends to be slightly more aggressive than other subspecies.

Kimberley Archer fish: Also known as the Western Archer fish, this fish is endemic to Australia, and grows up to six inches in length. It has an almost mystical silvery-white color with black markings. Unlike other archer fish, which prefer more brackish environments, these subspecies like deep freshwater pools and somewhat cooler temperatures.

Primitive Archer fish: This archer fish is found in Australia as well as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Growing up to six inches in length on average, it has a silver-tan color with no bars or spots.

Small Scale Archer fish: This species has small scales and grows up to six inches in length. Native to the Indo-Pacific region, where it spends its time equally between freshwater and brackish environments, this fish has dark bands along its flanks.

Big Scale Archer fish: This last type of archer fish is native to the Molucca islands in Indonesia. One of the rarer species of archer fish, it is not generally kept in aquariums. It has a brown color with faded vertical bands.

Archer fish, Blowpipe fish, river fish

Archer fish – Diet & Feeding

What do archer fish eat in the wild?

In the wild, archer fish employ unique predatory behaviors. When one of these fish locates its prey, it rotates its eye so that it can gain a better view of its future food. Then, it allows its lips to break the surface before it squirts a jet of water at its victim. This is done by forming a small groove on the roof of its mouth and then contracting its gill covers to force water out at a high speed. This unique behavior allows archer fish to hunt food at the surface of the water as well as above it.

Archer fish begin engaging in these behaviors at a young age (about an inch in length) and learn how to shoot from experience, gaining expertise as they age. While they are learning, they hunt in schools. In addition to their shooting behavior, they can also leap from the air and grab insects in their mouths.

Archer fish Feeding Habits

Because archer fish prefer live prey, they can be difficult to feed in an aquarium. That being said, it’s certainly not impossible. When you feed archer fish, make sure you are only feeding them the exact amount of food that they can eat at one time. Overfeeding can not only result in health problems for your archer fish, but it can also contaminate your tank with debris and bacteria.

When you feed your archer fish, it can be fun to watch them at action, using their native instincts to shoot down their prey. Simply set some live prey loose on a piece of protruding driftwood and sit back to watch your archer fish in action.

When feeding during the day, archer fish will come to the surface and feed on floating foods. They can also jump out of the water and grab prey from overhanging items. These fish grow quickly, so it’s important not to overfeed. Instead, feed moderate amounts twice or three times a day.

What foods are recommended for archer fish?

Feed your archer fish a varied diet of mostly live prey. They will eat things like mealworms and crickets, as well as fruit flies and houseflies. They will even eat brine shrimp or frozen foods. Pellets or flakes can be fed as well, just keep in mind that they prefer live foods and will eat this more quickly and voraciously than the alternative.

Archer fish, Blowpipe fish Thailand river fish

Archer Fish: Tank Setup

Brief overview of natural habitat

Archer fish are native to freshwater rivers as well as streams and pools. However, some subspecies live in brackish water habitats like estuaries. They are typically found in countries of Southeast Asia such as India and Sri Lanka as well as parts of Australia.

In the wild, archer fish are still fairly common. However, their numbers are rapidly decreasing due to the destruction of their natural habitats (such as mangroves) as well as shrimp farming practice.

Because most species of archer fish that are kept in captivity prefer brackish environments, it can be tough to care for them in an aquarium. Though not impossible, you need to make sure you are keeping the salinity of your aquarium at the proper balance.

Archer Fish Tank size

The ideal tank size for an archer fish is between 55 and 90 gallons at the very smallest. Because archer fish are a schooling fish, you need to have a tank that is large enough to accommodate several fish at once. They prefer lots of open swimming space.

Archer Fish Water Conditions (Temp., pH, KH)

Archer fish prefer brackish waters, meaning you will need to cover the bottom of your tank in some kind of substrate. Consider using sand or silt to help create this environment, keeping in mind that if you choose to use live plants you will need about an inch thick layer of the substrate.

You should also aim to keep your tank at a pH level of around 7.0 to 8.0. You will need to add salt, ideally some brand of marine salt to help keep the waters at the appropriate salinity.  You should also consider adding a bit of lighting to ensure they receive similar conditions as they would in their natural waters.

Archer fish  prefer temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. When you are setting up your tank, you need to make sure you have a tall canopy so that they cannot jump out of the tank. Try to keep your water levels low, with a few inches of airspace between the top of the water and the top of the tank. This will prevent your fish from jumping out and becoming stranded.

Try to change your archer fish tank water at least once a week. You should exchange about thirty percent of the water. Because archer fish won’t eat anything that drops below the water’s surface, it is very common for matter to slide to the bottom of the tank and contaminate your water.


Archer fish are easy to care for in that they don’t require a lot of decorations or extra materials in their tanks. Like a fish that prefers plenty of wide-open spaces, you want to make sure you provide them with plenty of free space to love about. You can include a few pieces of driftwood and some smooth river rocks, or even live plants like Java fern. However, make sure the plants you choose can tolerate brackish water and that you aren’t overcrowding your tank with decorations.

Archer fish in an aquarium

Archer fish Tank Mates

When selecting archer fish tankmates, avoid species that are smaller than archer fish, as they have been known to eat anything that is smaller than them. In addition, you will need to select fish that can thrive in a more brackish environment. Try to avoid housing your archerfish with crabs or snails, as they are likely to eat them. Here are some species that cohabitate well with archer fish.

General Behavior

Archer fish are peaceful species by nature. Although they can become territorial with members of their own species, they usually get along just fine with other tank mates. It is suggested that you keep archer fish with multiple other fish instead of by themselves, as they are a schooling fish and prefer a little bit of company to solitary aquarium life.

How to Keep Archer fish Healthy

Archer Fish Common Diseases

When it comes to archer fish care, they are prone to the standard parasitic and infectious diseases that aquarium fish encounter. These can generally be prevented by limiting physical stress and keeping water quality high. These are the most common diseases among archer fish:

Ich: Also known as white spot, this common fish disease shows up mostly on the fins of your fish. It will look like those your fish is covered in salt. To address this disease, monitor the water quality of your tank. Increase the temperature of your tank to the higher end of the

Dropsy: This disease is a bacterial infection, but can also be caused by malnutrition. It causes bloating and raised scales. You can provide your fish with medication, but it is more easily treated by improving water and food quality.

Fin rot: This illness is another common aquarium illness, and results in rotting fins, a loss of appetite, and lethargic behavior. Brought on by aggressive fish behavior like bullying and fin nipping, it can also be caused by bacteria and poor water quality. You can treat fin rot with medications, but improving your quality of food and separating out aggressive fish.

Tips on keeping archer fish in good health

You can often prevent archer fish diseases by ensuring that these fish have fresh, clean water at all times. If disease strikes nonetheless, add dyes or metal salt solutions to help return your fish to health. In some cases, a quarantine may be necessary, while other situations may simply call for raising the temperature or salt content of the water.

The disease is rarely a problem in a well-kept aquarium. Keep in mind that keeping your tank decorations to a minimum can help reduce the risk of health problems, as anything you add can harbor bacteria. Archer fish tend to be resilient to most diseases and can be kept healthy even if they have a disease because they tend to bounce back quickly.

Archer Fish Breeding

Most people do not breed archer fish because their breeding patterns are not well known. In addition, there is no known way of sexing archer fish, another challenge if you want to breed them. They mature sexually at about one or two years of age, with breeding occurring in the wild during the wet season. At this time, these fish will gravel to saltwater reefs, where they will spawn. Female archer fish will lay a minimum of 20,000 eggs (or as many as 120,000!), which float on the surface of the water and hatch in less than a day. They usually hatch in around twelve hours or so.

While archer fish are prolific breeders in the wild, in captivity, it is rare to be able to breed archer fish. You will need to transfer your eggs to another tank to ensure that the fry survives. Fry can be fed small insects and other floating foods, but keep in mind that they will need to grab the food from the surface of the water and won’t be able to hunt for their prey for quite some time.

Interesting facts

Archer fish are carnivores in the wild, but will only eat from the surface and won’t eat anything that drops below the surface of the wild. This can make it challenging to feed them, but interesting in that they can be trained to spit down foods in the aquarium. All you need to do is stick small pieces of food to the aquarium glass or slightly above the surface of the water. The fish will learn how to jump for the food and will spit at the prey in order to shoot it down. This interesting hunting and feeding behavior is one reason why archer fish is one of the most unique and entertaining aquarium species you can keep.

Is an Archer fish Right For You?

If you are interested in a fish that will keep you entertained through its unique hunting behaviors and charming personalities, consider purchasing an archer fish. While they do require more space than other species of fish, they are so interesting to watch that they are well worth the space and investment.

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Rick Kesler

I'm Rick and I've kept freshwater fish for over 5 years now. My main tank now is a 55-gallon tropical freshwater tank and my wife and I both just love watching all of our different fish while they swim around, some schooling and others not. I've also learned a lot about what to do and what not to do to keep our fish healthy and happy.

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