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

Related Articles: Catfishes

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

The Thorny, Talking, Raphael Catfishes of the Family Doradidae

Bob Fenner  

    Doradid catfishes can be discerned from other armored catfishes of South America by their single row of lateral bony body plates ( the exception in the 35 genera, 90 or so species, Liosomadoras morrowi is now contained in the Driftwood Cat family Auchenipteridae). Talking cats have three pairs of relatively short barbels (one maxillary, two mandibular, no nasal pair), a prominent dorsal spine (ouch!) followed by 4-6 soft rays... most are small fishes of a few inches in length, but  some species (Megaladoras spp., Oxydoras niger) reaches a meter total length.  

    On seeing members of this family it's easy to appreciate where the name thorny comes from... with most sporting a median spine in the middle of their posterior lateral body armor, and most of their spiny fin rays being serrated. The "talking" appellation hails from these fishes prodigious noise making through articulated body parts and gas bladder squeezing. They can be quite "chatty", being able to be heard outside their aquariums. 

    The common name "Raphael" is applied to four species in separate genera... that have being small, thorny, talking in common. 


    If you want to make these catfishes really happy, cater to their natural dispositions. Most are nocturnal, with some time out and about during the twilight hours (crepuscular), so dim lighting to designated dark areas on the bottom are a must. When you see them at a store, wholesale facility they will likely be packed together in a corner... a reference to their liking of the dark and burrowing natures. Some species dig into sand, burying themselves with just their small eyes showing, and most all will dive into sunken peat, bits of wood... and larger chunks of underwater wood to hide amongst and under. 

    Water quality is not terribly important with these catfishes. They will tolerate a range of conditions, but prefer slightly acidic, not too hard water of moderate temperature (20-26 C.). 


    Once again, ideally aquarists will research and try to provide biotopic settings for their aquatic charges. Here, other freshwater South American fishes like Gymnotid knifefishes, characoids, peaceful cichlids (dwarfs, juraparoids...). The species that have been studied are gregarious, so keeping them in a group is advised if your system can accommodate them. 

Species Aquarists Might See: 

    Unfortunately of the ninety or so doradid species mainly only the four "Raphael" cats are seen on any regular basis. Do look for "oddballs" in shipments of fishes from the general Amazonas region, or ask your distributor to look out for these for you if interested. 

Acanthodoras cataphractus (Linnaeus 1758), the Red Raphael or Spiny Catfish. South America: Amazon River basin and coastal drainages of French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname. To 11.5 cm. Natural water cond.s: pH 6-7.5, dH 4-25, temp. 22-26 C. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary
Agamyxis pectinifrons (Cope 1870), to science the White-Barred and to aquarists the Spotted Raphael Catfish. South America: Amazon River basin. To six inches in the wild. Natural water cond.s: pH 5.8-7.5, dH 0-20, temp. 20-26 C. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary
Amblydoras hancocki (Valenciennes 1840), the Blue-eyed Catfish. South America: Guyana and eastern Brazil to Peru and Bolivia. To six inches in length. Natural water cond.s: pH 6-8, dH 5-19, temp. 23-28 C. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary
Orinocodoras eiganmanni Myers 1927, the Longnose Raphael Catfish. South America: Orinoco River basin. To eight inches long. Sometimes found mixed in with Platydoras costatus, other times listed as itself for sale. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/
Oxydoras sifontesii Fernandez-Yepez 1968, Doradid Catfish. South America: Orinoco River basin. To 76 cm. long.
Platydoras costatus (Linnaeus 1758), the Chocolate or Striped Raphael (Talking) Catfish. South America: Amazon, Tocantins, Parnaíba, Orinoco, Essequibo River basins and coastal drainages in French Guiana and Suriname. To 24 cm. in length, though rarely half that in captivity. Natural water cond.s: pH 5.8-7.5, dH 2-20, temp. 24-30 C. In the wild feed on crustaceans, insects and debris. Often found on sand bottoms, burrowing into the overburden to escape predation. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/


    Doradids are eager feeders (at night) on most all foods. They are good scavengers, but do need express feeding including some live foods (worms, insect larvae) in addition to purposeful offerings of sinking high-protein dried foods. 

    A note re their growth rates; these are slow. Except for the species that get very large, most talking catfishes rarely grow more than an inch in a given year. 


    Unfortunately these light-shy fishes are veritable "ich magnets" that seem to be amongst the first fishes to show quick infestations of white spot disease. To the positive, they are also ready respondents to the usual treatments for same. 

Net Manufacturers Friends:

    Doradid cats have serrated pectoral fin spines that seem perfectly designed for increasing net sales... use your hand (carefully) with or w/o a tool to direct these cats into a submersed catching container, not "throw away" nets that they will get hung up in. Their pectoral and dorsal spines can be "locked" in position via interneural notches... and though they can be unlocked if one knows how to do this, it's best to cut the netting around them rather than twist at these puncturing appendages. Lastly, take care not to get your fingers caught between these fishes' pectoral fins and body... they will let go (sooner underwater than out) but it does hurt, and can puncture your skin. Okay, really last here, there is evidence in doradid species of a toxic slime produced near the base of their pectoral spines... with a handy groove for it to run down and into a spined victim... watch your hands around these fishes!


    Of the species observed, the doradids have proven to be surface bubble-nest breeders of sorts, with males doing guard duty. Spawning occurs at night, with males attaching, riding females during gamete release. Females are notably larger and girthier than males of any given species, particularly with age, maturity/spawning readiness. 


    So, some submerged wood or other hiding space, nocturnal meals, an eye toward avoiding protozoan problems... Other than not being seen often by day, the doradids are worthy biotopic species for South American Amazonian systems. 

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 longnose Raphael catfish, Orinocodoras eigenmanni Myers. FAMA 8/82. 

Finley, Lee. 1998. Orinocodoras eigenmanni Myers. The longnose Raphael catfish. TFH 9/98. 

Finley, Lee. 2000. Catfish corner. The Raphaels. TFH 9/00. 

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

Sands, David. 1992. Talk, talk. The family Doradidae. The doradids. South American Siluiformes (catfishes) with abilities to lock spines, emit sounds and produce venomous fluids. FAMA 3/92.

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