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Related Catfish FAQs: Bagrid Catfishes Identification, Behavior, Compatibility, Selection, Systems, Feeding, Disease, Reproduction

Related Articles: Catfishes


/A Diversity of Aquatic Life


Giraffes, Lancers,  & Just Bagrid Catfishes, the Family Bagridae

By Bob Fenner

Horabagrus brachysoma

    Though not as speciose as the South American catfish families Loricariidae and Pimelodidae, Bagrid catfishes have definitely got the spread (Asia and Africa, including Japan and Borneo) and width (some 30 genera, 210 species) to match these groups of siluriiforms. Most are small, but there are a few giants here (Chrysichthys grandis of Lake Tanganyika attains a length of 2 meters). Physical characteristics are variable but most bagrids have four pair of well-developed barbels and adipose fins of variable size. These are scale-less fishes that nonetheless have formidable protection from predators (and hobbyist hands and nets!) in the way of a stout spine in front of their dorsal and pectoral fins. For brackish aquarium fans, there are a few Asian bagrids that travel in and out of more saline waters.

    Of these many species, there are a but a few Bagrid species that make it into the ornamental trade, and those handful mainly from Southeast Asia. This is a great shame as some very unusual to unique species hail from elsewhere, particularly Africa.

    Some species of bagrids bear superficial similarities to pimelodid catfishes... can be told apart by the presence of four versus three pairs of barbels on their faces, as well as area of origin of course.



    Tanks: As large as possible. Even smaller Bagrid species can "rev up" and move about quickly, and due to their high volume eating it's best to provide dilution volume for wastes. The non-gargantuan species prefer darkened settings with rocks, plants and wood to hide amongst. Very large species should be kept in systems with larger gravel substrates, large rock (if any) and plastic plants (if any), as these will be uprooted and tossed about.



    Smaller fishes, able to be taken into Bagrid cat mouths, may well be. Larger, faster tankmates, particularly ones that occur in the same waters are encouraged. Gouramis, larger barbs and Rasboras, the freshwater minnow-sharks for the Asian bagrids for instance. African Characoids, more peaceful African cichlids for the African bagrids...

    Some of the Bagrid cats are quite social and known to school in largish shoals in the wild. Other species like the various Lancer cats are best kept one to a tank, as they can be quite territorial. In fact, even some of the smaller Bumblebee cats can become quite "mean" toward other fishes and should be watched for signs of inter- and intra- aggressive behavior... likely linked with reproductive stage.


Species That Hobbyists Are Likely To See:


Auchenoglanis occidentalis (Valenciennes 1840), the Giraffe Catfish to aquarists, Bubu locally. Africa: Nile, Lake Chad, West Africa, Congo-Lualaba River system, East African lakes, Omo River and Giuba River. To twenty eight inches in length. If there is something like a biological vacuum cleaner, this is it. A peaceful giant that grows quickly (a couple of feet in as many years) but gets along fine with fishes not large enough to inhale.  http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=2438&genusname=Auchenoglanis&speciesname=occidentalis

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Bagrichthys hypselopterus (Bleeker 1852), one of two of the Black Lancer Catfish, suggested that it be named the "Great Lancer" by Linder (1999) for its larger size, more "humpbacked" appearance. Asia: Thailand to Indonesia. To sixteen inches. Rarely, if ever imported for the ornamental trade.  http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=11977&genusname=Bagrichthys&speciesname=hypselopterus


Bagrichthys macracanthus (Bleeker 1854), one of two of the Black Lancer Catfish. Asia: Thailand to Indonesia. To eight inches total length. Water Cond.s: pH 6.5-8, DH to 24, temp. 20-25 C. Common appellation in reference to the very long anterior dorsal spine which is very striking on larger specimens. This species takes a few months to "settle in" to captive conditions and is best kept in warm water (85 F.) during this time. Best kept one to a tank, definitely a single male to a system. Shown here in a not untypical orientation, that is, upside-down. http://www.fishbase.org/summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?id=16161

Bagrichthys macropterus (Bleeker 1853), the False Black Lancer Catfish. Asia: Thailand to Indonesia. To a foot total length. Sometimes offered as the "true" Black Lancer Cat (see above), can be discerned by the false's lack of a lateral purple stripe, and lack of a prominent dorsal spine. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=11978&genusname=Bagrichthys&speciesname=macropterus


Bagroides melapterus Bleeker 1851, the Marbled Lancer Catfish. Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. To 34 cm. in length. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=23052&genusname=Bagroides&speciesname=melapterus


Chrysichthys longipinnis Boulenger 1899, the Aluminum Cat. Africa: Congo-Lualaba River system.  To twenty eight inches. Water Cond.s: pH 6.3-7.5, DH 4-12, temp. 20-25 C. Only silvery as juveniles, turning darker at about five inches in length. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=9311&genusname=Chrysichthys&speciesname=longipinnis


Chrysichthys ornatus Boulenger 1902, the Ornate Bagrid Cat. Africa: Congo River system below Stanley Falls. To eight inches. A predaceous species that will eat any fish small enough, like half its size. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=9316&genusname=Chrysichthys&speciesname=ornatus


Hemibagrus nemurus (Valenciennes 1840), the Asian Red Tail Catfish. Asia: Mekong, Chao Phraya and Xe Bangfai basins; also from the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Borneo. To 26 inches in length. Water Cond.s: pH 7=8.2, DH 10-25, temp. 22-25 C. A cultured food and game fish in Asia. Can be very territorial, necessitating a tank of its own when larger. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=5427&genusname=Hemibagrus&speciesname=nemurus


Horabagrus brachysoma (Gunther 1864), Gunther's Catfish to science, the Asian Sun Catfish to aquarists. Asia: Kerala, India. To 45 cm. Farmed in Asia as a food and game fish. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=13296&genusname=Horabagrus&speciesname=brachysoma

Lophiobagrus cyclurus (Worthington & Ricardo 1937), the African Bullhead Cat. Africa: Lake Tanganyika. To 8 cm. Water Cond.s: pH 7.5-8, DH 15/25, temp 23-26 C. Of note, this catfish produces a mucus that is toxic to other fishes. Must NOT be housed with fishes that will antagonize it. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=9346&genusname=Lophiobagrus&speciesname=cyclurus


Mystus leucophasis (Blyth 1860), the Burmese Upside Down Catfish. Asia: Myanmar. Farmed in Thailand as a food fish. To 5 inches in length. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=13303&genusname=Mystus&speciesname=leucophasis


Mystus micracanthus (Bleeker 1846), the Two Spot or Twinspot Catfish. Asia: Mekong basin, Malaysia and Indonesia. To six inches in length. Water Cond.s: pH 6-7, DH 5-19, temp. 20-26 C. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=11990&genusname=Mystus&speciesname=micracanthus


Mystus vittatus (Bloch 1794), the (Purple) Striped Dwarf Cat. Asia: Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and probably Myanmar. To 11 cm. maximum length. Water Cond.s: pH 6-7.5, DH 4-25, temp. 22-28 C. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=5137&genusname=Mystus&speciesname=vittatus

Parauchenoglanis guttatus (Lonnberg) 1895, the Dotted Catfish. Africa: Cross and N'Dian (Nigeria-Cameroon). Reported from Democratic Republic of the Congo. To almost ten inches in length. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=9355&genusname=Parauchenoglanis&speciesname=guttatus


Pelteobagrus (nee Pseudobagrus) fulvidraco (Richardson 1846), the Tawny Dragon Catfish. Asia: Nam Ma basin (Laos) and Viet Nam to southeastern Siberia, mostly collected in China. A temperate water species, 16 to supposedly 25 C. To nearly fourteen inches in length.


Phyllonemus typus Boulenger 1906, the Spatula-Barbeled Catfish. Africa: Lake Tanganyika. To 8.8 cm. Water Cond.s:  pH 7.6;  DH 12; temperature tolerance 25°C. A small, peaceful aquarium species, named for the dark, flattened ends of its large maxillary barbels. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=9358&genusname=Phyllonemus&speciesname=typus


Pseudomystus siamensis Regan 1913, the Asian Bumblebee Catfish. Asia: Chao Phraya and Mekong basins (Ref. 27732). Reported from Maeklong, Peninsular and Southeast Thailand. To eight inches, but rarely seen at half this. Sometimes found in brackish water. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=11987&genusname=Pseudomystus&speciesname=siamensis








    In the wild Bagrid catfishes feed on an assortment of aquatic crustaceans, insect larvae, worms of all sorts, algae and vascular plant material. In captivity they are not shy eaters, though recently collected specimens may need to be trained to be fed by light of day, as they are more nocturnal in their feeding habits.



    A few of the several Bagrid cats used as food have been bred and cultured for such on fish farms, principally through hormone manipulation. Aquarium breeding is problematic in that territorial males often have larger than their tanks. Parental care is variable, from none to mouth brooding by both parents as in Pyllonemus typus. In the wild, spawning is seasonal with temperature and precipitation changes triggering reproduction. Some hobbyists have had success by manipulating these variables in captive settings.

    Many bagrids can be sexed by the males possession of a genital papilla, just in front of the anal fin/urogenital opening, and the males longer barbels.


Bibliography/Further Reading:


Catfishes on the Internet: http://phylogeny.arizona.edu/tree/eukaryotes/animals/chordata/actinopterygii/siluriformes/siluriformes.html


Planet Catfish: http://www.planetcatfish.com/core/index.htm




Burgess, Warren E. 1989. An Atlas of Freshwater and Marine Catfishes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications. NJ, USA. pp. 786.


Finley, Lee. 1982. The Asian Redtail catfish. FAMA 6/82.


Finley, Lee. 1982. Lophiobagrus cyclurus (Worthington & Ricardo) a Lake Tanganyikan dwarf Bagrid catfish. FAMA 10/82.


Finley, Lee. 1983. Bagrichthys hypselopterus (Bleeker). The black lancer catfish. FAMA 7/83.


Finley, Lee. 1985. Phyllonemus typus Boulenger, an interesting Bagrid catfish from Lake Tanganyika. FAMA4/85.


Finley, Lee. 1997. Amarginops ornatus: a favorite frequently mistaken. TFH 2/97.


Finley, Lee. 1997. Chrysichthys ornatus- Boulenger. FAMA 7/82.


Howe, Jeffrey C. 1998. Original Descriptions: Hemibagrus gracilis Ng & Ng 1995.


Kenney, William R. 1985. Bumblebee catfishes. FAMA 8/85.


Linder, R. Shane. 1999. Unraveling the mysteries of the black lancer. FAMA 12/99.


Nelson, Joseph. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3d ed. John Wiley & Sons, the World. pp.600.


Tavares, Iggy. 1998. Tanganyikan giraffes in your tank. TFH 6/98.


Taylor, Edward C. Bagrid catfishes- a mixed bag. TFH 7 & 10/83.


Thurston, Kevin. 2002. Bagrid catfishes of Asia. TFH 10/92.


Walker, Braz. 1975. The tawny dragon catfish, Pseudobagrus fulvidraco. TFH 9/75.


Walker, Braz. 1981. Parauchenoglanis guttatus. TFH 4/81.


Walker, Braz. 1989. Mystus vittatus. TFH 4/89.

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