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FAQs on Electric Cats

Related Articles: Electric CatfishesElectrogenic Fishes,

Related Catfish FAQs:  Electrogenic Fishes, Catfish: Identification, Behavior, Compatibility, Selection, Systems, Feeding, Disease, Reproduction


Looking for a final opinion   9/6/11
Hey guys,
I have been researching Malapterurus Electricus, for the past few days and am running across some conflicting info. My question is this: will this fish normally reach 3 feet plus or in aquaria is a max size of
12-16 inches expected?
<Much more likely the latter... Unless you have the fish in a huge system for several/many years>
PS: Really enjoyed the Doc's article on the fish.
<Will pass along. Bob Fenner>
Re: Looking for a final opinion   9/6/11
Is it realistic to keep one in a 75-100 gallon set up?
<For a few years. B>
Re: Looking for a final opinion, Electric cats   9/7/11

<Will observe here that this catfish rarely gets to the maximum size quoted. For one thing, there are multiple species in the genus Malapterurus, and the species (or variety) traded tends to be the so-called
Dwarf Electric Catfish (Malapterurus microstoma) which only gets to about 30-40 cm in captivity, and at most 55 cm in the wild. Malapterurus spp are not a particularly demanding fish because they don't move about much. You aren't going to keep them with tankmates, either. So an adult Dwarf specimen could be maintained in 75 gallons, say, without trouble. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Looking for a final opinion   9/7/11

Are they any fun?
<Not really, no. They're nocturnal, ugly, they hardly move, they can't be kept with anything else, and they need softish, slightly acidic water chemistry so can be difficult to keep in hard water areas. And, of course,
they can shock you every time you clean the tank! But for the catfish enthusiast with a 75 gallon tank lying around empty in his or her fish room, they're certainly worthwhile additions to a collection. Cheers, Neale.>

Electric Catfish, sys... use as switches...  -- 02/07/08 Hi all, I love your website! It is definitely my favorite fish webpage! Anyway, to get on to my question, I was wondering if any of you know how to use an electric catfish turn on lights. I volunteer (I'm not old enough to work as an employee) at a my LFS and we thought that it would be really cool if we could do that. I know it is possible as I've seen videos of electric eels doing it, but I can't find any information on the web on how to do this. Thanks for any help you can give me, Brandon <Hi Brandon. Basically no, you can't do this easily. Electric Catfish (and Electric Eels) only produce very big bursts of electricity when they are (very) frightened. The point is that it uses up a huge amount of energy, and after a few (often two or three) big pulses the fish is literally exhausted and has to rest. Keep doing this, and the fish will eventually get stressed and die. So unless you want to constantly annoy your catfish, you can't elicit this particular feature easily. Now, what you can do with electric fish is rig up an oscilloscope to detect the low intensity electric pulses they produce almost continuously. I did this at university with species of Mormyridae. It's not especially difficult to do, but the oscilloscope itself is a piece of kit most people don't have lying about at home! But once you've set the thing up, you'll hear clicks and see flashes as the electric fish does its thing. What you see at Zoos and Public Aquaria is usually some sort of oscilloscope connected to regular light bulbs, so the light bulbs lighting up aren't "powered" by the eel (or catfish) but merely switched on and off by the background pulses the fish normally makes to find its way around. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Electric Catfish   2/9/08 Thanks for responding so quickly! I was expecting at least a day! Anyway, I am aware of the fact that the lights wouldn't be on constantly. What we would do is put in some feeder fish and then the light would blink on/off as the catfish zapped them. <Please tell me you don't use feeder fish. Or if you do, you are of course breeding your own livebearers. The quickest way to make a predatory fish sick is to use cheap minnows or Goldfish as feeders. Unless you're breeding livebearers, I urge you not to put in those "bacteria bombs" we call Feeder Fish. As I said before, the electric shock costs them a lot to use, so they use it sparingly. If you put in a small prey item, like an earthworm, they'll just catch it like any other (nocturnal) catfish would.> If you're sure that won't work, how much does an oscilloscope cost? <I was reading up on this. Malapterurus doesn't use its electrical capabilities for communication or navigation, so there's no point. It only uses the electric shock for killing prey and defending itself. Anyway, Oscilloscopes cost a few hundred dollars at least, as used items, more for the new ones. Trust me: I've done this, and it's fun to see, but not worth 100s of dollars. Talk a college professor into doing it in a physiology class with a Mormyrid or something!> Thanks, Brandon <Cheers, Neale.> P.S. You don't have to worry about me "playing" with electricity. My dad builds houses and I do a fair amount of electrical work for him. <I'm not that concerned. Small Malapterurus can't produce that much power. It's enough to make you numb and ache, but not to kill. That said, obviously anyone with a pacemaker or similar electronic device keeping them alive would very definitely be at risk. Only adult specimens (which are up to 1 m long) produce large enough shocks to stun. And to get the catfish that size takes a lot of care and exceptional diligence with regard to water changes. Ain't ever gonna happen if you feed it feeder fish and prod it repeatedly to get an electric shock from the poor thing. On the flip side, once they're tame (because they're looked after well *and* been kept a while on a wholesome diet) these fish become incredibly tame, and never shock their owners. They are amazing pets, but for 99.99% of the aquarists out there, quite boring. A lot like Piranha really -- the stories are much more exciting than the real thing, unless you're REALLY serious about learning about them. Anyway, enjoy the fish for what it is. NM>

Re: Electric Catfish   2/8/08 Yes, the feeder fish I use guppies I raise. <Very good. While I don't like feeder fish to be used because (in my opinion) it is basically cruel, if you do need to use feeders, home-bred livebearers -- once gut-loaded -- are the safe option. But you don't need to use feeder fish for this species.> Also, a source for seeing fish turn on lights was an electric eel. It was in a video called "Experience With An Eel" from the collection of videos "Sermons From Science" by Dr. Moon and the eel (well, really the knife fish) was actually turning on the lights with its electricity. That's what gave me the idea. <Agreed, they can turn on lights under lab conditions; I'm merely saying that the displays you see at zoos don't work that way. If they did, the fish would be completely exhausted. Likewise, not really an option for the home aquarium.> Electric Catfish are totally awesome fish, even if they didn't have any electricity (I love catfish & cichlids). Do you know if they can be kept with any other fish without shocking them if the tank is grounded? <No, they can't live with tankmates.> Thanks for all your help. <You're welcome.> If you don't mind lots of questions, I've also got a lot to ask about saltwater tanks to which I can't find any information on the web. <Hmm... find this hard to believe. In any case, come to the front door of the Wet Web Media web site and you'll see a tonne of stuff.> Thanks again, Brandon <Cheers, Neale.>

New to Fishkeeping and having some problems... Swordtail systems, health, Electric Catfish... generally   6/24/06 Hi there... While I've been around fish of and on all my life (I'm 24 now.. heh), this is my first fishtank and I'm struggling a bit. I've done a LOT of reading here online and am continuing to do so. I've heard a lot of conflicting information however and well... I'm confused. <Soon to be less so> My tank is a 20g. Long. I use a Penguin 150 Biowheel for filtration at one end and have one medium sized airstone at the opposite end of tank. My ammonia and Nitrite is <are> at 0. I'm uncertain what my Nitrate is at as I don't have a test for it. I have a automatic ammonia monitor in the tank at all times. <These are notoriously inaccurate> PH is at approx. 7.6 . I say approx. 7.6 as the only PH test I have at the moment is a low level test. My tap water is naturally hard. When tested with the low level PH test, my tap water turns a color far darker than the color shown for 7.6 (the max. shown on the table). I added salt to my tank after it finished cycling...1 TBSP per Gallon however I haven't added anymore salt since then. I fishless cycled for two weeks with the use of Cycle and fish food to aid bacteria growth. My tank has had fish in for nearly 2 months now. This tank is for swordtails only so I wasn't sure they needed the salt. <Mmm, can tolerate a moderate amount. Don't need per se... but most Xiphophorus species do better in hard, alkaline water> I use only artificial plants as I don't have a green thumb and am afraid of messin with live plants...lol. I do a 25% water change EVERY week and DeChlor the replacement water with 2 drops per gallon of instant DeChlor. I also use Cycle in my filter once a week. Water temperature is right at approx. 78 degrees Fahrenheit . I feed a combination of food at the moment. I feed the following: *Pro-Balance Tropical Color Flakes *Tetra Color Flakes *Tetra Min Flakes *Tetra Spirulina Flakes *Bio Blend Color Enhancing sinking pellets After my existing food supply is diminished I will be feeding only the three Tetra products. I do have questions about a new food my LFS just got in stock however. My first fish in this tank were three red velvet females and a red velvet male. They were doing great for the first couple weeks and then trouble struck. Well I can't really say they were doing great as they flicked off the heater from Day 1. The male also flicked against a pot I have in the tank for them to hide in. There were no signs of ick however...no white specks. One of the females became somewhat bloated. She was pregnant so it made her look very very pregnant. She did not have any pineconing so I doubt it was dropsy. Her eyes were a bit bugged out and towards the end she began whirling. By whirling I mean she swam in circles aimlessly.. bumping into everything. Up until the time she began whirling she ate great. She never clamped her fins at all either, at all. She had her fins up even while I was putting her down. Shortly after she died I noticed that both other females and the male had thin white stringy feces. <Mmm, likely internal parasites...> One of the other females died before I could treat the tank for parasites (which I assumed them had). I just found her dead one morning. The last female died during treatment and the male died shortly after treatment ended. The last female had spent her last couple days with clamped fins, refusing to eat and laying at the bottom of the tank. The male was a surprise as he had been acting okay other than continuing to flick off of the pot. I had used Jungle Brand Parasite Clear Tank Buddies. I also noticed a growth of brownish algae on some of my plants and on the pot. <Evidence of complete cycling> After all of my first fish passed away I got a new trio. A brick red female, a red velvet female and a red wag male. These three came from a different LFS then my first did. I've had them for approx. 3 weeks or so now. All three of these fish exhibited the same thin, white, stringy feces as my first fish did so I made the decision to treat the tank again. <The tank/system itself is parasitized...> I used the tank buddies again. <Brand name... need the active ingredients listed> I did two doses over the course of four days with a 25% water change in between and a 25% water change afterwards. The brick red female went off feed during the second dose and continued refusing to eat afterwards. She did a lot of sulking at the bottom of the tank or up at the corner of the tank with her fins clamped. Her last day she was covered in a thick white film of what I assume was mucus...this film lasted a couple hours and then disappeared. Later on that evening I found her dead near one of the plants in the tank. This was approx. 1 week ago. Today I noticed my red velvet female is doing a lot of hiding at the bottom of her tank. The area between her eyes is slightly raised up...she looks like she's trying to become a rhino.....kinda. She also has some strange 'growth' or 'flakiness' to her left side of her face. It's almost like the scales are kinda lifted or something...it's hard to explain. I have seen her scrape herself on the pot and gravel a couple times over the past two weeks but its so infrequent that I attributed it to her pregnancy. Both male and female still have thin, white, stringy feces. Both are still eating extremely well. The male is still swimming around very active with fins up. The female also has her fins up but recently has begun swimming around with them somewhat clamped which is out of character.  She does have her fins up while she's 'resting' at the bottom of the tank however.  which is out of character for her. Both male and female have still been flicking on the pot on infrequent occasion. Still no signs of ick however.  The last week or so the male has been heavily harassing her trying to breed with her. Soon as payday comes I intend to get a few more females so he'll knock it off deeming the tank doesn't have anything infectious in it.. I also plan on getting some more plants for the girls and inevitable fry to hide in. Anyhow.. my questions... 1)Whats up with my fish? What's causing the white, stringy feces? <Lack of quarantine, bunk initial quality, parasites, parasitized system> 2)Do you know anything about New Life fish foods? <Yes. The owner, Pablo Tepoot is an old friend... have visited with him re for many hours> I thought of using their Tropical Fish pellets and Thera-A flakes <Wouldn't hurt> 3)Is my PH too high for my swords? Could that be the problem? <Not too high, not a problem> 4)Should my swordtails have salt in the tank? How much? <No more than what you've placed> 5)Are my fish getting an inadequate diet? Could that be causing my problems? <Could be a factor... need more "greens", fresh foods> 6)Is it possible the my tanks still cycling and this is new tank syndrome even despite my lack of ammonia? <Yes... likely the "Cycle" did little, is doing little... until the appearance of the "brown algae", likely the tank was not cycled> 7)If this is an illness what are some natural cures that could be used to treat them?  Colloidal Silver, Salt, PimaFix/MelaFix, Garlic, etc.  Would any of those have an effect. <None I would use/seek> I'm leery of commercial medications. 8)Any suggestions, comments or concerns please...I want to do good by my remaining fish. <... Please read WWM re FW Fish Disease...> I also have a three to four inch female electric catfish. <!? Not in the same tank?> She's currently eating frozen beef heart produced by AquaYums. She also eats Ghost Shrimp. I know a 10g. <Oh...> is not adequate for her... <Malapterurus... grow to how many feet in length?> she'll be upgrading soon. As with my swordtail tank her water parameters are normal.  She too gets weekly 25% water changes.  She has a corner sponge filter that stated it was capable of filtering either a 20 or 25g.  Anyhow.. is her diet adequate? <No> She's been getting fed every other day. Should she be fed more frequently? Less frequently? <Every other day is fine> Information on Electric cats dietary needs here on the net is pretty vague thus far.   Also...this gal's got sand as a substrate. Frequently she'll have crumbs left behind from her meals and won't clean them up.   Normally I just siphon them out if she's due for a water change.   Any tips on keeping the sand cleaned?  This is the first time I've had sand as a substrate. Thanks greatly for any advice you can give me. Sincerely, Heather <Where to really start here... Nowadays many Swordtails are imported from outside the U.S. (not too many decades ago, most were raised in Florida, even by local hobbyists through-out the U.S.)... These imported livebearers often have real troubles (as you've found)... and would be best treated by their respective importers, wholesale distributors before being sent further (this is exceedingly rare). Your system should now be treated with Metronidazole/Flagyl (see WWM re)... The Electric Cat, please see Fishbase.org re as well as the scant coverage on WWM. Lastly, do read the "Swordtail FAQs" files archived on WWM... Bob Fenner> Electric Catfish question  11/14/05 Hi, <Hello> I have a 1 1/2 year old electric catfish who has quickly developed a growth on the right underside of his jaw. It seems to be three large growths that make up one puffy protrusion. Could this be a type of cancer, and is there anything I might use to treat him?  <Is likely a goiter... a deficiency syndrome... Not to hard to effectively treat with the addition (to food) of iodine/iodate. Look in your fish store for Lugol's Solution...> There have been no changes at all in water and diet (shrimp). HELP. Thank you, <Good luck, life to you. Bob Fenner>

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