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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

‘Amphibious’ fish

What kinds of fish can breathe air directly from the atmosphere?
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - December 11, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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‘Amphibious’ fish

Have you seen a Siamese fighting fish occasionally come up to the water surface, seemingly to breathe? In fact, it could very well be doing that! And why it is able to do so is due to the fact that it belongs to the anabantoid family.

Also called labyrinth fish, anabantoids are a group of fish equipped with what is known as the “labyrinth organ”. This organ is a lung-like structure located close to the gills, which enables the fish to breathe air from the atmosphere directly.

Nearly amphibious
When an anabantoid inhales at the surface, air is forced into the labyrinth organ. Within the organ are many maze-like compartments (thus the name “labyrinth”) consisting of thin bone plates called lamellae. The lamellae are themselves covered with exceedingly thin membranes which extract oxygen from the water, then disperse it throughout the body.

Because of this fantastic organ, an anabantoid – provided that it stays moist – can stay alive for a short time even when it is out of the water. Some – like the climbing perch, for example – can even traverse short distances overland to reach another body of water.

Types of anabantoids
Species that come under the anabantoid family include many popular varieties of bettas and gouramis endemic to the freshwater bodies of southern Asia and Africa. They are usually found in warm, slow-flowing waters that are low in oxygen.

Some labyrinth fish – such as the giant gourami, kissing gourami and climbing perch – are highly valued as food, but many are popular as aquarium fish.

The betta splendens (commonly known as the Siamese fighting fish) is probably the most popular species in the aquarium trade. Ranging throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand and Cambodia, this fish is prized for its vibrant colours. Through selective breeding, they take on a variety of hues including red, blue, orange, green, turquoise, yellow or even translucent. Adult specimens usually grow to a length of 6cm to 7cm, and have a lifespan of between two and three years.

Another labyrinth fish popular among aquarists is the paradise fish (or paradise gourami). Though it traces its roots to China, Korea, northern Vietnam and other East-Asian countries, this fish, ironically, first became popular in Europe during the 19th century. It is valued for the attractive patterns on its body and its hardiness, and may grow up to a length of slightly more than 10cm.

Marked by orange stripes against a sky-blue body, the male dwarf gourami is a beautiful fish that is relatively easy to keep. A male-female pair will form a strong bond and stay close to each other. Females produce up to 600 eggs during a single spawning, which are then closely guarded by the male until the fry hatch about a day later. If you’re keen to experiment with fish breeding, this one is good for starters.

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