Climbing Perch, Anabas testudineus Bloch 1792

Other Names: Climbing Gourami

Climbing Perch, Anabas testudineus. Source: Oliver Lucanus. License: All rights reserved


A highly invasive freshwater fish that has been introduced to Boigu and Sabai Island in the Torres Straits, Queensland. Climbing Perch is a declared noxious species in Queensland.

Identifying features:
Body slender with a long-based dorsal fin and large regularly-arranged scales;
Greenish to brownish, more dusky to olive-green above, pale below;
Head with longitudinal stripes below eye, iris golden, dark spot on margin of gill cover. 
Juveniles with a dark spot on gill cover and on tail base.

Climbing Perch have an accessory air breathing organ, the labyrinth organ, located above the gills, which enables this species to tolerate low oxygen levels and periods out of water if they are kept moist. Individuals move over land (usually at night) between pools by levering themselves along using long robust spines on their gill covers.

Video of Climbing Perch moving over land

Cite this page as:
Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray, Anabas testudineus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 22 Jun 2024,

Climbing Perch, Anabas testudineus Bloch 1792

More Info


Introduced to Boigu and Sabai islands, Torres Strait, QLD. The species naturally occurs on the Indian subcontinent and throughout South East Asia to Indonesia and China.

Although they prefer slow moving to still waters, Climbing Perch inhabit a range of water bodies including ponds, ditches, canals, swamps, rivers, streams, flooded fields, lakes and estuaries.

They are able to tolerate a range of environmental conditions, including muddy and stagnant water, and can survive out of water for more that a day if kept moist - easily moving between pools. During the dry season, they remain buried in mud before re-emerging when the rains return.


Meristic features:
Dorsal-fin spines/rays: XVI-XIX, 7-10
Anal-fin spines/rays: IX-XI, 8-11
Pectoral-fin rays: 14-16
Pelvic-fin spines/rays: I, 5
Lateral line scales: 26-31
Transverse Scales: 3-4 /1/7-10/

Head and body subcylindrical, depth 2.3-3.2 in SL, body and tail somewhat compressed. Head 2.3–3.3 in SL (30.3-43.5%); dorsal profile arched, or only slightly convex, ventral profile slightly convex. Eye 4-6 in head length (16.6-25%), equal to or greater than snout length, 2.5-4 in postorbital part of head. Operculum, suboperculum, interoperculum and preorbital edged with long radiating spines, though reduced in young. Preopercle with some spines at lower posterior border. Posterior nostril close to anterior rim of eye, larger than and widely separated from anterior nostril, latter with barbel-like valve. Mouth oblique; jaws equal, reaching to below centre of eye; narrow bands of small crowded teeth in jaws; A-shaped row of larger teeth on vomer, but none on palatines.

Scales ctenoid, covered with numerous small tubercles. Head scaly; 4-5 rows of scales between eye and rear edge of preopercle. Predorsal scales 15-19. Lateral line interrupted below last dorsal spines, resuming two scales below to caudal.

Fin spines strong; dorsal and anal spines flattened anteroposteriorly. Dorsal fin continuous, with long base, originating above opercular opening; first spine shortest, 3rd-5th or 4th-6th longest, subequal. Rays of soft portions of dorsal and anal longer than preceding spines, dorsal rounded posteriorly, anal obtusely pointed. Anal fin with long base, first spine below 8th or 9th dorsal fin spine. Origin of pectoral fins below origin of dorsal, reaching past anal fin origin. Pelvic fins of moderate size, originating slightly behind origin of pectorals. Caudal fin rounded.


To around 23 cm.


Tan to dark brown, paler or silvery below; large white-edged, dark ocellus at base of caudal fin and smaller spot at rear edge of operculum; fins brownish or dusky. Immature fish with transverse dark bands posteriorly on body and tail and similar longitudinal stripe from corner of mouth below eye; sometimes longitudinal stripes following rows of scales posteriorly instead of bands.


Omnivore - feeds mostly on aquatic plants and detritus, and also consumes shrimps, snails, worms, insects and small fishes.


Matures at about 10 cm. Females release 50-100 relatively large, buoyant eggs that float at the surface. Larvae are relatively large at hatching after 24-48 hours.


Used in aquaculture and commercial fisheries throughout its native range. An important food fish in South East Asia. Also popular in the aquarium industry.


Climbing Perch can respire by retaining water in a special respiratory organ, the labyrinth, to keep the gill lamellae wet. This allows them to breathe air and remain out of water for long periods, or bury themselves in mud when pools dry out.

They tolerate muddy or stagnant waters, gulping air from the water suface to breathe. During the dry season, they bury into the mud, only re-emerging when the water returns. When pools become dry or uninhabitable, Climbing Perch migrate long distances in search of other ponds. They often ‘walk’ overland during the wet season using the strong spines on the lower gill cover, their pelvic fins and tail.

Species Citation

Anthias testudineus Bloch 1792, Naturg.  ausländ. Fische 6: 121, Pl. 322. Type locality: "Japan" [southeastern Asia].


Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray

Climbing Perch, Anabas testudineus Bloch 1792


Allen, G.R. 1991. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of New Guinea. Publication, no. 9. 268 p. Christensen Research Institute, Madang, Papua New Guinea.

Axelrod, H.R., C.W. Emmens, D. Sculthorpe, W.V. Winkler & N. Pronek. 1971. Exotic Tropical Fishes. TFH Publications, Inc. Jersey City, NJ.

Bloch, M.E. 1792. Naturgeschichte der ausländischen Fische. Berlin. 6: i-xii + 1-126, Pls. 289-323

Chanchal, A.K., B.N. Pandey and S.B. Singh, 1979. Studies on some aspects of biology of Anabas testudineus (Teleostei: Anabantidae). Matsya 4: 15-19.

Eldredge, L.G. 1994. Freshwater fishes. p. 73-84. In L.G. Eldredge, Perspectives in aquatic exotic species management in the Pacific Islands. Vol. 1. Introductions of commercially significant aquatic organisms to the Pacific Islands. South Pacific Commission, New Caledonia.

Hitchcock, G. 2008. Climbing perch (Anabas testudineus) (Perciformes: Anabantidae) on Saibai Island, northwest Torres Strait: first Australian record of this exotic pest fish. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 52(2): 207-211.

Hitchcock, G., Finn, M.A., Burrows, D.W., & Johnson, J.W. 2012. Fishes from fresh and brackish waters of islands in Torres Strait, far north Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 56(1): 14-24

Hughes, G.M., S.C. Dube & J.S.D. Munshi. 1973. Surface area of the respiratory organs of the climbing perch Anabas testudineus (Pisces: Anabantidae). J. Zool. Lond. 170: 227-243.

Larson, H.K. & B. Pidgeon. 2004. New records of freshwater fishes from East Timor. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 20: 195-198.

Tan, H.H. & P.K.L. Ng. 2005. The labyrinth fishes (Teleostei: Anabantoidei, Channoidei) of Sumatra, Indonesia. Raffles Bull. Zool. Supplement (13): 115-138.

Waltham, NJ, Burrows, D & Schaffer S 2014. Freshwater Pest Fish on Boigu, Saibai, Badu and Mabuiag Islands in the Torres Straits (June 2014 survey). Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) Publication 41/14, James Cook University, Townsville, 86 pp. 

Weber, M. & L.F. de Beaufort. 1922. The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. E. J. Brill, Leiden. v. 4: i-xiii + 1-410.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37450001

Behaviour:'Climbs' over land

Biology:Air breather

Conservation:IUCN Data Deficient

Habitat:Fresh to brackish waters

Max Size:23 cm

Native:Introduced, invasive

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CAAB distribution map