The Fastest Fish on Land

   Until quite recently, myth and mystery surrounded the life secrets of that popeyed clown of the tropi­cal Asian mudflats, the mudskipper. Its breathing mechanism, for instance, was so little known that it was thought to absorb oxygen through its tail. Such misconceptions arose largely because mud­skippers are almost impossible to catch alive, even for seasoned hunters. They can change direction on land faster than any human reflexes can react, and in water they can scurry over the surface like skipping stones, covering two to four feet at a jump. One expedition, in its scholarly report on mud­skippers, devoted paragraphs to describing how a team of scientists gave chase to one in vain, lunging through the mud until they dropped from sheer exhaustion, laughing hysterically at their own ludicrousness. Another team was equally unsuccessful until it reverted to an old schoolboy trick—shooting rubber bands at the fish and stunning them.