Fascination with the ‘Spitter’, the archerfish [Guest writers]

By Sim Yan Ling and Agatha Oei (Millennia Institute)

Um, am I Katniss or Legolas?

When humans spit, it is considered an unpleasant act. However, have you ever seen a being that spits as gracefully as an archerfish? Never have I seen a ‘lady’ with such a mouthful until my visit to the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa. Watch out insects, the aquatic version of Katniss Everdeen is here!

Also called the spinner fish or banded archerfish, this fish (that can grow up to 30 cm depending on the species) is absolutely capable of knocking off unwary inserts perched on low overhanging branches using a powerful water cannon. She sucks water in and by pressing her tongue against a grove in her mouth, shoots a jet of water into the air to dislodge the insert from its safe haven. Once the ill-fated insect hits the water, it is gobbled by the archerfish in seconds.

Now you may wonder, what is the big deal? Anyone can spit!  But if you take into consideration the odds stack against the fish, you will eat your words!  For a successful shot, the archerfish needs to compute the distance to its target, calibrate just the right amount of pressure to apply and estimate the appropriate trajectory for a successful shot.

Archerfish Shooting Illustration

And if these capabilities fail to impress you yet, she has to also contend with factors like the refraction of light.  With the bending of light as it travels from air into water, the angle and distance of its prey is distorted. To compensate for this, our markswoman has to constantly adjust its firing position in order to get the perfect shot.  Imagine yourself swimming just below the surface of a swimming pool, without goggles, sucking water into your mouth and trying to aim for a target high above the water surface.  No mean feat, right!?

The archerfish is not born with its superb shooting skills. Like all professional sportsmen, juvenile archerfishes practise and improve from experience to fine tune their aiming and precision. One can truly agree that it is an arduous process of learning through trial and error.

The archerfish is but one of the many species of fishes living in mangrove swamps. The fishes living there depend on the mangrove forests for food, protection as well as a habitat to breed. Today, ocean and coastal pollution have brought much harm to the ecosystem in mangrove forests. Oil spills and deforestation have also destroyed large expanses of mangroves and the animals that dwell in such unique ecosystems are facing the fight of their lives.

Tranquil mangrove

We need to act fast and decisively to preserve the beauty and usefulness of these mangrove forests.  It would be very sad indeed to lose our ‘spitting ladies’ – the archerfish!  Visit these skilled archers of the marine world at the Marine Life Park’s Bay of Bengal exhibit soon to spot them in action!

Yan Ling and Agatha are students from Millennia Institute and they write for MI Wired, an online platform for students to showcase their writing. Both are advocates of social and environmental causes.

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