Arabian killifish (Aphanius dispar)

Also known as: Arabian pupfish, Jordan mother-of-pearl killifish
GenusAphanius (1)
SizeMaximum length: 7 cm (2)

The Arabian killifish has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

One of only three native fish species found in freshwater in the United Arab Emirates, the Arabian killifish (Aphanius dispar) is a small fish with marked variation between the male and female (3). The male is more elaborate in appearance with a greenish-brown to silver body with faint white stippling, which often forms a net-like or wavy-line pattern, and two to three dark vertical bands on the tail fin (3) (4) (5). Whilst breeding, the male’s lips and fins become vivid blue-white. The duller female is mottled golden-brown with numerous dark, vertical, zebra-like bands along the body (3). As is typical of many killifish species, the male Arabian killifish has a larger, more elevated dorsal fin than the female (6). The head of the Arabian killifish is also rather flattened and the tail fin is quite short (4).

The Arabian killifish is found in coastal areas around the Middle East and Northeast Africa, as well as in some freshwater pools and landlocked seas in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It may also occasionally travel from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal into the south-eastern Mediterranean (2) (4).

Capable of surviving in both freshwater and high salinity environments, the Arabian killifish is most often found in estuaries, but also occupies coral reefs and oases (2) (4) (6). It has also been introduced into a number of artificial habitats, such as ponds and water tanks (3).

A highly adaptable and opportunistic species, the Arabian killifish is not only capable of inhabiting and breeding in both freshwater and saltwater, it will also eat practically anything it can find, including detritus, algae and live aquatic insects (3). It swims high in the water column and often hovers with the tail characteristically curved to one side whilst feeding (3). 

Little else is known about the Arabian killifish’s biology, but it is thought to breed throughout the year with a slight peak between April and June (7). It spawns in areas with an abundance of floating vegetation after the male fish has attracted a female mate by fluttering its tail, which displays its vivid colouration (2) (3). Eggs are subsequently laid on the river or sea bed, and hatch around 12 to 14 days later (4) (5).

There are no known threats to the Arabian killifish. In the United Arab Emirates it has been introduced into a number of mountain streams, as well as various man-made water bodies as a control of mosquito larvae, and has successful bred in these habitats (3).

The Arabian killifish has not been the target of any known conservation measures.

To find out about conservation in the United Arab Emirates, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. UNEP-WCMC (November, 2010)
  2. FishBase – Arabian killifish (November, 2010)
  3. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  4. Marine Species Identification Portal – Arabian killifish (November, 2010)
  5. Baensch, H.A. and Riehl, R. (2004) Aquarium Atlas. Volume 4. Mergus Verlag, Melle, Germany.
  6. Randall, J.E. (1996) Coastal Fishes of Oman. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
  7. Haas, R. (1982) Notes on the ecology of Aphanius dispar (Pisces, Cyprinodontidae) in the Sultanate of Oman. Freshwater Biology, 12: 89-95.