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Related FAQs: Archerfishes

Related Articles: Brackish Water Fishes

/The Conscientious Brackish Water Aquarist

Archerfishes, Family Toxotidae

Bob Fenner

Toxotes jaculatrix

    Few groups of fishes are as distinctive as the Archers. All six species (of one genus) display a similar profile (deep-bodied, laterally compressed, with large eyes, and markings... overall silvery with black dorsal banding. All display mastery of spitting insect prey through the air/water interface... with large, protractile jaws, and big jutting lower jaw. And all make beautiful, hardy aquarium specimens... given a few simple provisos: meaty, likely live foods, likely some salt in their otherwise hard, alkaline water, plenty of surface area to cruise, forage in, and a paucity of bothersome tankmates. 


    Found in coastal areas of India, the Philippines, Australia, Polynesia in fresh, brackish and marine habitats. 


    Most species, individuals to a maximum length of about six inches, but one to sixteen (Toxotes chatareus)!

Archerfish Species, Family Toxotidae

Toxotes blythi Boulenger 1892. Only found in Myanmar (Burma). Not utilized in the pet fish trade.


Toxotes chatareus (Hamilton 1822), the (Seven) Spotted Archerfish. Widespread in the tropical eastern Indian Ocean and western Pacific; Sri Lanka, India, New Guinea, northern Australia. Mangrove swamps into freshwater rivers and streams. To sixteen inches in length, a pound and a half in weight. A food fish in some places. The second most (and these two are about it) species imported.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Toxotes jaculatrix (Pallas 1767), the Banded Archerfish. The principal species used in the trade in the west. Asia and Oceania; India to the Philippines, Indonesia, Vanuatu, the Solomons, New Guinea, northern Australia. To one foot in length. Juvenile and adult in aquariums.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Toxotes lorentzi Weber 1910, the Primitive Archerfish. Found in south-central New Guinea, Australia and Indonesia. Swamps and overgrown stream margins. Darker colored, barely visible barring. Rarely encountered. To six inches.


Toxotes microlepis Gunther 1860, the Smallscale Archerfish. Found only in Asia; the Mekong, Chao Phraya and Xe Bangfai Basins, and Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra. To six inches in length. Though found in coastal seas, the most freshwater (inland) species of Toxotes. Photo by Neale Monks.

ID Archer fish   10/11/11
Hey there everyone! (I'm hoping this one gets sent to Neale, as it pertains to a conversation we had about archer fish for a 75 gallon with tire track eel and so on)
Anyways, I'm still trying to get in contact with the man who's selling the 75 gallon tank but that's besides the point. I think my LFS has some of the Toxotes microlepis I've been looking for just so I know I would be able to find them once I got a tank set up and dedicated for them. Anyways I'm not exactly sure if they are Toxotes microlepis so I took some pictures of the two they pulled out of the pond (I was only able to see them from above at first) and put them in a little bowl for me to snap some pictures (got to love having an awesome lfs that will help ya out!). So I've attached the picture files in this email for a more professional ID.
<These do look like T. microlepis to me. Do try and count the dorsal fin spines; 4 for Toxotes jaculatrix, 5 for the others; and then double check the colouration, as per the key given Allen here:
"Toxotes kimberleyensis, a New Species of Archerfish (Pisces: Toxotidae) from Fresh Waters of Western Australia"
But yes, I agree, these do look like T. microlepis. For what it's worth, Frank Schafer in the Aqualog Brackish Water Fishes book argues that this is the most commonly imported species. I've attached a photo that Bob might want to add to the Daily FAQ page <will certainly do. B> as well, or the Archerfish page <and here>. It's a Toxotes microlepis imported under this name by Wildwoods, Enfield, in London. Note the two spots on the back half of the dorsal fin, and the way those spots are clearly separate from the final two bands on the flank. On Toxotes jaculatrix the spots and the bands typically join, and on Toxotes chatareus there are usually a much clearer set of six or seven vertical bands with spots in between them, as well as much darker overall colouration. But note that it's very difficult to be 100% sure, and secure identification depends upon things like fin ray and scale counts.>
I know the pictures aren't the best but I hope they help... The archers that are in the pictures (2 of them) were juveniles about 3ish more like 4 inches long (im terrible with guessing measurements) Both of which showed faint continuation of the bands going further down the body as well as no bands connecting or splurging onto the dorsal fin.
<Cheers, Neale.>


Re: ID Archer fish -- 10/12/11
Well Neale I'm definitely having fun with this little project! Love getting into this with experienced Aquarists such as your self! (really hope to be doing something in this realm as a job... but that needs more research on my part...). Any who, its interesting that both the archers they had both had the double EXTREMELY distinct black spots on the Dorsal fin. Also relieved as one of them had a more so tainted darker appearance or at least had some marbling at the end of its tail or at least splotches actually
going on the chair as seen in the pictures... Just so pumped that they actually have the right species! will try and look at their dorsal spines.
A little off topic, how would Rainbow fish do in a tank with these mini sized archers (need to research the rainbows of course, but saw some extremely vibrant reds, neon dwarf blues, and boeseman's rainbowfish while at my lfs) As you said in a 75 gallon with 5 or so of the archers and a tire track eel, I could keep some mollies as well, but could I kind of switch the mollies for some rainbows? just wondering!
<Rainbowfish too large to be swallowed can, do work well with Archerfish.
Have done this combination using Melanotaenia splendida and Melanotaenia boesemani. Melanotaenia praecox might be a bit small. Cheers, Neale.>

Toxotes oligolepis Bleeker 1876, the Western Archerfish. Found only in Australia's Fitzroy to as far as the Geike Gorge National Park. Freshwater. To six inches. Has distinctive outlined scales. Aquarium pic.


    Sorting through tanks, individual archers is pretty easy. In most cases, they're either in great shape or appallingly bad, and obviously so. Selection criteria I use:

1) Time on hand. Don't buy "new" archerfishes. Let them "rest up", settle in for a few days to a couple of weeks. Most all "mysterious" losses of these fishes occur within a few days of arrival.

2) Bloody markings, especially about the gills paired fin origins/bases are trouble; indication of trauma in collection, holding, shipping. If any specimens show these defects, leave ALL of them.

3) Size. Too small and large specimens are inferior choices. Little ones get too beat in the supply chain and large ones adapt poorly. The best size at purchase (for new, not ones "grown up" in captivity) is about two inches total length.



    Something large... by species at least five lengths the potential of its inhabitants. And with a good cover. In addition to keen spitsmanship, archers are also noted jumpers. Jumping about for an insect, many an archer has ended up on the floor. Keep your water level down a bit and a secure, complete cover over yours. 

    These are shy, retiring animals... at least at first introduction. In the wild, they hide, move about submersed terrestrial and true aquatic plants most of the time. Yours will be happiest with subdued light, filtering through plants, that if you use salt continuously or occasionally are salt-tolerant. Some notable types are Java Fern (Microsorium pteropus), Sagittarias, Vallisnerias, Elodea/Egeria, Hornwort/Coontail (Ceratophyllum), Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana), Hygro (Hygrophila spp.), and Swordplants (Echinodorus spp.). Remember, plant life is even more sensitive then fishes to rapid changes in osmotic and ionic content in their water. Acclimate them slowly.


    These are tropical fishes, that require warm water,  25-30 C. Though most do ascend into freshwaters, the species commonly offered as pet-fish do best with at least occasional exposure to salt in their water. I suggest a specific gravity of 1.005 to 1.012 with some important notes to add here. It's a good idea to "match" the spg of current (including shipping) water with what your archers are already living in... and towards that ends to pre-mix and store new/make-up water in a dedicated container (like with a pump/powerhead, heater), using whatever regimen you utilize to keep the density of their water (new and old) about the same. As an example, if you're maintaining your brackish system on the lower end of "saltiness" (let's say about two teaspoons of non-iodized, or better still, synthetic sea salt mix per gallon) then for a given amount of water removed (not replaced due to evaporation, which leaves the salts, other solids behind), you'll want to have added that amount of salt to the make up/stored water per that volume.

    It's advised to maintain pH, alkalinity and hardness (dKH and GH) at elevated levels... somewhere between "most common" freshwater and marine conditions. A pH of 7.2-7.6, and 20 degrees of calcium hardness are about right. These higher values are helpful in preventing too sudden drops, changes in water chemistry in small aquarium volumes. 

    Some folks vacillate the conditions, thermal, salt-content of their brackish systems. If you do this, do it slowly... like a thousandth of density "point" maximum in any given day. 



    Though they don't like sharing their open water space with other species, archerfishes are abidingly tolerant toward members of their own species. I've collected Toxotes jaculatrix and T. chatereus in the same net trawl in good numbers in backwaters of Cairns, Australia. Likewise they're displayed together in public aquariums around the world, and crowded in single and mixed species groups at pet-fish wholesalers and retailers. In fact, these fishes are almost always found in groups and are best displayed as such. 


    Some species breed in fresh, marine, or both (T. chatareus). Lay between 20,000-150,000 eggs, about 0.4mm diameter. Spawning takes place triggered by rains after the dry season (May, June). 


    Scientific accounts list insects and floating vegetable material as principal foods taken in the wild. Zooplankton, aquatic insect larvae and worms to a lesser degree. Insects are shot from up to five feet away with accuracy... amazing given the index of refraction compensation necessary for aiming through water into air. 

    In captivity healthy Archerfishes accept meaty foods of all sorts (after initial acclimation)... Cut and whole insects, their larvae like "mealworms", worms, crustaceans are all fine. If you don't grow plants, in part for their ingestion, do supply some purposeful greenery (like a bit of human-intended algae) as a strip, on a "clip" at the upper edge of the tanks water line, for your Archers consumption. 

Disease Prevention/Cure

    Archerfishes do get the typical infectious and parasitic diseases of their freshwater brethren. The former (bacterial, fungal, even viral in the case of Lymphocystis) are principally due to consequences of physical stress coupled with poor water quality, and best "treated" with return to stable, improved conditions. The latter (ich, velvet...) can be cured with the usual dye or metal salt solutions, or simple manipulation of the environment (raising temperature and salt content of the water).


  Amongst fishes the Archers (Greek: Toxots) rank supreme as spitting sharpshooters. Intelligent, beautiful animals in their own right, all but one species are best kept in "brackish" conditions, with other brackish livestock, ideally in a "species"/biotopic sort of display.... Water level lowered down, submerged roots, darkened lighting... A complete cover, meaty foods, regular maintenance... is all these fishes need. 

Bibliography/Further Reading: Archers

Allen, Gerald R. 1973. Nature's sharpshooters. TFH 12/73.

Jonklaas, Rodney. 1988. In praise of archerfish. TFH 11/88.

Kluge, Klaus 1960. Marksmen with scales. TFH 4/60.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. 3rd Ed. Wiley. 600pp.

Brackish Water Systems In General:


Anon. 1981. Where watery worlds mingle... Aquariums Australia 2:1, 1981.

Anon. 1975. Tanks with brackish or mixed water. Aquarium Digest International 3:4, 75.

Burgstaller, B.J. 1978. The brackish system. FAMA 8/78.

Castro, Alfred D. 1996. Fishes for the brackish aquarium. Pt.s I, II. 5,6/96.

Dawes, John. 1989. Bolstering sales of brackish water fish. Pets Supplies Marketing Magazine. 7/89.

Gibbs, Max. 1995. The brackish aquarium. For the adventurous fishkeeper looking for something different from the conventional tropical freshwater or marine aquarium, the brackish tank offers a challenge. FAMA 4/95.

Gos, Michael. 1980. The brackish system, pt.s 1,2. FAMA 11,12/80

Gos, Michael W. 1977. The brackish aquarium. TFH 10/77.

Monks, Neale. 2001. Giving into temptation. A personal top ten of brackish-water fish. TFH 9/01.

Taylor, Edward C. 1996. Creating a brackish-water biotope. Pet Business Magazine. 11/96.

Taylor, Edward C. 1982. Keeping a brackish aquarium, pt.s 1,2. TFH 5,6/82.

Volkart, Bill. 1989. The brackish aquarium: Pt. 1, setting up, Pt. 2, plants, Pt. 3 the fishes. TFH 6,7,8/89

Wolf, Jim. 1998. Fish on the brink (brackish). Odyssea. J. of the Mar. Aq. Soc. of L.A. 4/98.

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