Common name: Archerfishes



Archerfishes have an amazing ability to spit powerful jets of water at terrestrial insects and other animals to knock them into the water.

The dorsal fin is far back on the body allowing archerfish to swim very close to the surface enabling them to clearly see their prey. They form a 'blow tube' or 'water pistol' by pressing their odd-shaped tongue up against a groove in the roof of the mouth. This allows archerfishes to accurately shoot powerful jets of water in a fraction of a second, and hit prey at distances of more than ten times their body length.

Watch a BBC video clip of a Sevenspot Archerfish, Toxotes chatareus, shooting a beetle down from a branch.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Archerfishes, TOXOTIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 Mar 2017,

More Info

Family Taxonomy

The family contains only the single genus Toxotes with 7 species. Four species are found in northern Australia (Allen, 2002). Allen (1978) reviewed the family and described a new species in 2004.

Family Distribution

Widespread in the tropical Indo-west Pacific from India to Vanuatu and northern Australia to the Philippines. They are commonly found in mangrove-lined estuaries and freshwater rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons.

Family Description

The palate of the mouth contains a deep longitudinal groove that becomes a tube when the tongue is pressed against the roof of the mouth. When the gill covers are suddenly compressed water is forced from the pharynx into this tube, and with the tip of the tongue acting as a valve, the flow of water, under pressure, is regulated.

Family Size

To a maximum length of 40 cm; most less than 25 cm.

Family Feeding

Archerfishes feed on insects and floating vegetation taken from the surface. They are renowned for their ability to "shoot" down insects from over-hanging vegetation.

Family Commercial

Archerfishes provide sport for recreational anglers and the flesh of large fish is considered good eating. They are also attractive and interesting aquarium fishes.

Family Conservation

A number of species have been assessed by the IUCN - International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Family Remarks

Archerfishes are renowned for their ability to 'shoot' down insects from over-hanging vegetation. The palate contains a deep longitudinal groove that is converted to a tube when the tongue is pressed against the roof of the mouth. When the gill covers are suddenly compressed, water is forced from the pharynx into this tube, and with the tip of the tongue acting as a valve, the flow of water, under pressure, is regulated.

Accurately shooting terrestrial prey not only requires oral dexterity, but also the ability to detect small camouflaged prey against a visually complex background of overhanging foliage (Temple et al., 2010). Because archerfish eyes remain below the water's surface during spitting, they must adapt to the optical demands of both aquatic and aerial fields of view. Temple and colleagues found that archerfish eyes have specieal adaptations for vision at the interface between air and water.


Dianne J. Bray


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Allen, G.R. 2004. Toxotes kimberleyensis, a new species of archerfish (Pisces: Toxotidae) from fresh waters of Western Australia. Records of the Australian Museum 56(2): 225-230.

Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

Allen, G.R., 2001. Toxotidae—archerfishes (pp. 3212–3215). In: Carpenter, K.E. & V.H. Niem (eds). FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Vol. 5. Bony Fishes, part 3 (Menidae to Pomacentridae). Rome: FAO.

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Schuster, S., Rossel, S., Schmidtmann, A., Jager, I. & Poralla, J. 2004. Archer fish learn to compensate for complex optical distortions to determine the absolute size of their aerial prey. Curr. Biol. 14: 1565–1568.

Schuster, S., Wöhl, S., Griebsch, M. & Klostermeier, I. 2006. Animal cognition: how archer fish learn to down rapidly moving targets. Curr. Biol. 16: 378–383.

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Vasserman, G., Shamir, M., Ben Simon, A. & Segev, R. 2010. Coding ʻwhatʼ and ʻwhenʼ in the Archer fish retina. PLoS Comput. Biol. 6, e1000977

Wöhl, S. & Schuster, S. 2007. The predictive start of hunting archer fish: a flexible and precise motor pattern performed with the kinematics of an escape C-start. J. Exp. Biol. 210: 311–324.