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

Related Articles: Catfishes,

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

The Labyrinth Catfishes,  Family Clariidae

By Bob Fenner

Clarias batrachus

    Other than the dubious distinction of having the only nationally illegal species of fish in the U.S. as a member, the family Clariidae is a relatively large group (13 genera, about a hundred and five described species) of freshwater catfishes widely distributed throughout Africa, over through Syria to and through South and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Additionally, clariids have been spread about by humans intentionally (as food fishes) and not, including in the U.S. (Hawai'i and Florida).

    Most clariid cats are small (a few inches in length) with some reaching a meter. They are naked (armor-less) and fusiform (torpedo-shaped) fishes that look like eels on casual glance, with their long dorsal (and possibly adipose) and anal fins. The family common name relates to an accessory breathing apparatus, that appears as a diverticulum called a labyrinth in the gill cavity. This structure is put to good use at times when these fishes find themselves in low-oxygen waters or even land (!)... yes, this family includes the notorious "walking" catfishes. Like Siamese Fighting Fish, it may be that this labyrinth organ is more than facultative. Some clariids may drown if prevented from getting to the air/surface to take a breath.


    Appropriately sized for the species in mind. For the larger ones, big tanks, with big filters, secure covers (to prevent leaping from the system), some clay pots or other "hidey holes" for their use during the day. Plastic plants for all but the smallest types, as clariids are rambunctious, especially during the night, and will root up most anything possible.


    All the clariids available in the trade (that is, only a few, and generally only on special order) are predaceous on smaller fishes... and therefore must be kept in the company of larger tankmates.

Species Aquarists Might Encounter:

    Really the only species that most aquarists have seen is Clarias batrachus, the Walking Catfish... and this is outlawed in Germany, the U.S.... as a potential and real pest... resisting poisoning and even draining of lakes, streams by simply "walking away"...

Clarias batrachus (Linnaeus 1758), the (sometimes Albino) Walking Catfish. Asia: Mekong and Chao Phraya basins, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, aquacultured and accidentally introduced elsewhere. To twenty six or so inches in length, despite "stories" of much larger specimens (even eating dogs!). This intelligent and attractive fish comes in "regular" (blackish), albino and "mottled" markings. http://www.fishbase.org/summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?id=3054




    Greedily accept all types of foods, though they are partial to worms of various sorts. Will accept crustaceans, whole or cut fish, pellets... eating till veritably "about to pop".


Reproduction: http://community.forenshop.net/forums/index.php?mforum=predatortalk&showtopic=124

    Clarias batrachus has been spawned in activity (see Burgess 1989). The male entwined the female several times in a U-shape over a nest where eggs were laid and fertilized, with both parents sharing (though separately) guarding duties. Eggs hatched out in about a day (at 26 C.) and were free swimming in three.

Other Biology of Note:

    Labyrinth catfishes have other specialized adaptations for resisting periodic amphibious ventures. A thick skin and many mucous pores keep them moist when on land. If you should find your clariid cat has "gone for a walk" (not uncommon, as they are curious re their surroundings, and apt to leave their tanks), don't give up easily, even if the specimen is covered in dust and apparently dead. Do rinse it off in some tank water and place it in same with filtration. Often such "dried" specimens will rally and reconstitute themselves.


    As you can appreciate, due to their natural biology, the clariid catfishes are exceedingly tough and very suitable for rough and tumble aquariums with fishes too large to swallow... and tanks that are not easy to leave! If you have a tank of size and an outlet (retailer, etailer) who can order you these fishes, do consider keeping a labyrinth catfish.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

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


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

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

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