Anabas testudineus is a small fish from Indian waters commonly called as climbing perch. Testudineus means “turtle like" (1) . Its common name in Bengali is Koi and in Telugu it is called as “Gorkalu”.
This is a fish widely distributed throughout south and southeast Asia. It is a very common fish found in the river and pond waters of Machilipatnam and Eluru of Andhra Pradesh. It is a Bengali delicacy and is frequently exported to West Bengal from Eluru. This fish is a column feeder and a larvicidal fish (feeds upon mosquito larvae (2) ) and hence used to control mosquito larvae. Anabas is grayish green in color and has brown fins. It grows up to 9 inches and is a very hardy fish, due to the presence of accessory respiratory organ. (Rosette like structures found very close to the pectoral fin) and is known to survive for 8 years in captivity (3). Basically a carnivorous fish, is also known to eat rice (4).
Body is covered by cycloid scales. Lateral line sense organ is identified by the black spots as conspicuous one at the base of the caudal fin (5).
Male and female fishes are identified only during the breeding season, by the difference in their color. During the breeding season, the females show a brilliant orange color with shades of yellow on the ventral side of the abdomen and also on the pelvic fin. During spawning season the abdomen of the female is slightly bulged out (6).
Climbing perch can live in water low in oxygen, polluted water, and also water with rotting vegetation. In such waters, the fish rises to surface and gulps air. Anabas can survive out of water for about 6-10 hours (7).
During dry seasons, the fish burrows in the mud and is in resting phase. It is interesting to see the fish travelling in troops on the ground, during early morning and at times of rain storm. This is a migratory fish, migrating from one pond to another during rainy season for spawning (8).
Legend about the Climbing Perch: As this fish is frequently found on tree tops and also found hanging from trees or living in water filled slits of a palm tree. (9) It was believed that the fish would travel and climbing the trees. This was observed and confirmed by Lieutenant Daldrof of the Danish East India Company in the year 1797, so people believed it to be truly climbing perch for nearly 250 years. It was in the year 1927, that this myth about this fish as climbing perch was clarified by the study of B.K Das (10) an Indian expert on fishes.
This fish, when travelling as troops are often caught by birds such as pond crows and kites catch and carry them off and park them on tree tops, and slits of trees. Perch can live without water for days and so were found alive on most of tree tops and hence the name as climbing perch. As the myth has been cleared, it is more appropriately now called as “Walking Perch” rather than as climbing perch (11).
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