Which Fish Can I Keep with an Archer Fish?

Archer fish
Joseph Bylund/Flickr/CC 2.0

Question: Which Fish Can I Keep With an Archer Fish?

Answer: In answer to the reader question:
"I recently bought 2 new archer fish for my 30-gallon tank. I wanted to get more fish but I don't know what would go best with archers. Can you give me some advice?"

The Archer family is made up of the following six species:

  • Toxotes blythi
  • Toxotes chatareus (Common, 7-Spot, Largescale Archer)
  • Toxotes jaculatrix (Banded Archer)
  • Toxotes lorentzi (Primitive Archer)
  • Toxotes microlepis (Smallscale Archer)
  • Toxotes oliglepis (Western Archer)

Taxotes chatareus and Toxotes jaculatrix, are the two species regularly seen for sale in pet shops. They are so similar that shops rarely differentiate between them. You undoubtedly have one of those two species.

Here is more info about Archers in general and how to determine which species you have.

Deadly Spitters

Archers derive their scientific name from the word "Toxotes", meaning bowman or archer. If you've ever seen one in action, you'll understand how they earned that name. The archer hangs just below the surface of the water watching for insects. When one ventures near the water, the Archer spits a stream of water at its prey so quickly that the hapless insect never sees it coming. Insects have to stay far away from the water to avoid becoming lunch, as the Archer fish is capable of accurately shooting steams of water up to 1.5 m in the air.

All Archers have a deep, laterally compressed, silver colored body that is punctuated by black bands and black on the edges of the dorsal and anal fins. The jaw is large and upturned, perfect for feeding at the surface. What you can't see is the deep groove in the roof of its mouth that is behind the Archer's amazing spitting ability. By pressing its tongue against the roof of its mouth, it forms a tube through which water is forced by rapidly closing the gill covers.

To augment its hunting ability, the Archer has large eyes and a straight upper body line which allows it to lie very close to the top of the water without breaking the surface.

Which Species?

To the casual observer, the two species of Archers commonly sold in pet shops appear to be the same fish. Although they have similar needs, one is more aggressive than the other, so it's wise to know which species you have.

T. jaculatrix (Banded Archerfish) is the most commonly imported species of Archer and is the smaller of the two common species. It has four to five bands that lack the smaller blotches between them and is more peaceful than it's cousin, the Seven-Spot Archer.

T. chatareus (Common, Seven-Spot, or Largescale Archer) has seven bands or spots that are often broken into several blotches in a vertical row, which makes counting them a bit difficult. The scales are also larger, giving it a slightly lighter hue than the Banded Archer.

If you see a tank full of archers at the store, look at them closely. Odds are you'll notice some are smaller, have smaller scales, and don't have many smaller blotches between the black bands on their body. Those are the ones I'd advise purchasing, as the larger Archers are more aggressive.

Tankmates

Archers belong in brackish water, a fact that is often overlooked. Their preferred environment consists of warm brackish water, which limits tank mates to other brackish fish. Possible tankmates include other Archers, Scats, Monos, Knight Gobies, and Puffers.

You should be aware that in addition to requiring brackish water, your Archer also requires live foods. Although they can be trained to take meaty frozen foods, Archers do best when given live foods. Virtually any insects, or even small worms dropped on the surface of the water will do. You'll be amazed at how quickly they snap them up!