Animals with lungs (such as most terrestrial mammals) cannot breathe if submerged in water, and soon suffocate.

Whereas, fish can variously breathe air (at least for few-hours, as some fish frequently need to get air periodically), including those that are bigger than a human (say sharks).

But why? Do fish require less oxygen than lunged terrestrial-animals, despite being active and variously engaging in activities like predation? (so that uptaking only dissolved oxygen, and probably less surface area of gill than lung-alveoli is enough for them?)

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    $\begingroup$ at least for few-hours in case of some fishes those have frequent need to come to air for a while... They are not fishes; they are mammals (cetaceans). $\endgroup$
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Maybe the confusions are due to I don't know any terminology for the phenomenon where fishes comes-out towards upper-surface of the pond-water at a certain interval of time (hours). This is why I had used the phrase 'at-least few hours'. In my place (West bengal, India), a very hot place, fresh-water-ponds it happens. Probably it is not due to predation, because aquarium-fishes sometime do that. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG ...contd... There was an experiment in class 5 and 6 textbook (though I never performed it)... "take a fish that has additional respiratory system, Such as Heteropneustes fossilis/ Clarias batrachus/ Anabas testudineus and lock them in water inside a wire grid and within several hours the fish will die due to lack of oxygen". $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you can add a picture (of the fish in West Bengal that you are referring to) and the explanations that you gave in the comments (along with relevant references) to the question. It may clarify the question a bit. Don't use comments for additional explanation. Nobody will go through your comments. Moreover, comments are not indexed and are therefore not searchable. $\endgroup$
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ Please add these details in the question for the reasons already mentioned. Plus comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


Misleading sentences in your question

fishes can breathe in water (at least for few-hours)

Fishes can breathe for much longer than a few hours under water as they spend their whole life underwater.

Animals-with-lungs (such as most terrestrial mammals)

All mammals, whether terrestrial (like a cow) or not (like a dolphin) have lungs. While all mammals have lungs, most fish (but not all) have gills.

Lungs vs Gills

To understand the answer, you need to understand two key organs involved in gathering oxygen from the environment: gills and lungs.

Lungs are organs that allow the transfer of oxygen into the blood when inhaling air, while gills are organs that allow the transfer of oxygen into blood when inhaling water. Lungs don't do their job properly in water and gills don't do their job properly in the air. You should have a look at the following wikipedia entries to further your understanding of these organs:

Energy consumption

You say

does fishes require much-much less-amount of oxygen than lunged terrestrial-animals, though they stay in physical activities including predation?

I am not sure I understand the meaning of this sentence but anyway.

Making generalization about fish metabolic rate can only be misleading as there are an immense diversity of fishes. For example some fishes are endotherm (see here to understand the definition of this term) while some are not and this will vastly affect the metabolic rate.

Although eventually too advanced for the OP, Chabot et al. (2016) is an interesting reading to get an general overview of the Metabolic rate in fishes.

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    $\begingroup$ Small addition: some salamanders have gills. Also, another important point is that deep diving cetaceans have high concentration of myoglobin (or perhaps high oxygen affinity; don't remember that now. There was an article about that perhaps a year or a two, back) so that their muscles can store oxygen for a long time. I am not sure if all huge aquatic animals have this adaptation. $\endgroup$
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ The only fruitful part of this answer (yet) is "Lungs don't do their job probably in water and gills don't do their job properly in the air" . However it is here not explained why gill would not work in air and lung would not work in water. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @AlwaysConfused read the linked Wikipedia articles, as suggested by this post's author. Lungs evolved to move oxygen from gaseous air to the blood, while gills evolved to move dissolved oxygen from water to the blood. Lungs don't work in water, because they didn't evolve to work in water, and vice versa for gills. There's nothing else to explain. It's like asking why fins on a fish don't work for flying through the air - they didn't evolve to do that. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AlwaysConfused (1) as MattDMo said, please just read the wikipedia articles on gills and lungs to have a better understanding of their physiology. (2) if then you have any question that are specific to the physiology of gills and lungs (your current question is not), then please open a new post, explain what you understand about this physiology and what you don't. Good luck! $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ @ Remi.b "Lungs don't do their job properly in water and gills don't do their job properly in the air." . But why? also I didn't found yet in wikipedia articles. Wikipedia tells how lungs work on air ... but not why it fail work in water (or opposite for gills). $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:24