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  1. Default Asian Catfish: A Primer

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    Asia. The Orient. Land of mystique and spices.
    And home to a dazzling number of catfish, from tiny dwarves to meter-long monsters. Some have special needs in the aquarium. Some need aquariums as large as your living room. In this primer, you'll see what you're likely to run into at fish stores, and learn how to keep them.

    Perhaps the most misunderstood and miskept Asian catfish is Kryptopterus minor, the Glass Catfish.
    Native of the Sungai Pinoh river system in Borneo, the Glass Catfish earns its common name for its transparent flesh. All can be seen other than the organs, which are enclosed in a silvery sac near the head. Two long, white barbels arch over gracefully from the corner of the fish's mouth.
    Glass Catfish top out at a shade over 3 inches.
    Glass Catfish need four things to thrive. First, they must be kept in groups; a dozen or more is the best display. The numbers give them security and thus a much longer life in the aquarium. Second, they need current. Glass catfish hail from very clear, swift water in rock-strewn stream. While they are fine with the flow from a power filter, they would enjoy a power head installed at one end of the tank. In such a set up and with decent light their bodies glisten in blues and greens as they ripple in the current.
    Thirdly, they MUST have calm, passive tankmates. Rasboras are ideal. Dwarf goramy group; one male to three to five females, would be good tankmates for your Glass Cats.
    Cichlids are out, as Glass Catfish are very easily bullied. Chose tankmates very carefully.
    Fourth, Glass Catfish do best in planted tanks, as do the Rasboras and the Goramies. Planted tanks are also inherently more stable, which the catfish must have as they are very sensitive to high Nitrate levels. The plants also give them security, and are the place they will retire to at night.
    Feeding Glass catfish can be a bit of a challenge, as they have small mouths. Tiny pellets designed for tetras can be a staple, but the catfish may be shy about eating them at first before they learn the pellets are food. Live food like Daphnia are very beneficial to them; the frozen alternative may work. Frozen black mosquito larvae are a beneficial choice. Experiment with small foods until you see what your Glass Catfish school will take.
    Glass Catfish do best in bright, clean water near neutral in pH and moderately soft to moderately hard. Seventy-seven degrees is ideal.
    Once established in sympathetic surroundings, Glass Catfish are deceptively hardy and can live for between 5 and 7 years in aquariums.
    Books have had the species name of Glass Catfish incorrect for decades. Kryptopterus bicirrhis is more than twice as large as K. minor and isn't as transparent. It's doubtful you'll ever see them for sale.

    Their attractive brown-golden bodies lure many unknowing fish keepers into purchasing the Sun Catfish - Horabagrus brachysoma.
    A native of the Southern India district of Karnataka, Sun Catfish have but one fault; they grow to nearly 18 inches long. At that size tankmates must be chosen with great care. Sun Cats basically ignore fish too large to eat, but they will eat fish that fit in their capricious mouth.
    For the large, planted aquarium in the hundred gallon range or larger, the Sun Catfish can be ideal. They have a personality and character that must be seen to believe. A planted tank should be built with the prospective Sun Cat in mind, as they must have areas scaled to their size where they can retreat to when they feel the need.
    Floating plants added over the main swimming area at the front of the tank will encourage your Sun Cat to be seen nearly all day. Sun Cats do best at temperatures between 75 and 77 degrees.
    One must provide the hiding places and plants, as Sun Cats can suddenly panic and rush about madly if disturbed.
    Sun Cats appreciate some moderate linear current in their tanks, and they will be far more active if you provide it.
    Sun Catfish will happily eat what you feed them, and they prefer meaty foods. Insect larvae, either live or frozen, are ideal, as are earthworms, live or frozen shrimp, and white fish flesh. A suitably-sized high grade pelleted food, or better, two or three brands of them, can be the staple foods. Sun Cats are also excellent cleaners, and will comb your substrate for tidbits almost constantly.
    If the tank is large enough, in the hundreds of gallons, Sun Cats can and should be kept in groups, say four or more. Breeding is unknown, but I suspect that's due to not many having the facilities large enough to keep a group of them.
    On a more sober note, Sun Cats are an endangered species in the species' natural range, as over-fishing. pollution, and construction have made the clean water they enjoy more and more rare. The other Horabagrus, the smaller H. nigricollaris (11 inches) is critically endangered and populations of this fish have been reduced by 70 percent over the last three years.
    H. brachysoma's future is assured, as it is an important food fish in India, and are thus farmed. H. nigricollaris is relatively rare in the hobby.
    As nigricollaris are darker, attractive fish, and smaller in total length than Sun Cats, it would be a worthy endeavor to dedicate an aquarium to them in an attempt to captive breed these endangered fish.

    A true giant and all too available in shops are Pangasius hypophthalmus; the Iridescent Shark.
    A native of the large waterways of Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Kampuchea, Iridescent Sharks are one of the common fishes in pet shops, but very, very few fish keepers have the facilities to keep a school of at least five specimens, for the simple reason they grow very large; more than 50 inches long. And as they are a schooling catfish, an aquarium must be of truly prodigious dimensions to keep the fish properly.
    The vast majority of fishkeepers should leave these catfish at the pet store.
    Iridescent Sharks are river fish, thus the prospective keeper is obligated to provide a moderate linear current though the tank to mimic the natural environs of the fish. Live plants planted around the back and sides of the tank and large pieces of driftwood will help your Iridescent Sharks feel secure, and can keep them from dashing around madly when frightened. Instead of crashing into the glass and injuring themselves, they can take shelter among the plants and driftwood. A few floating plants can be provided so the Iridescent Sharks can take shelter from the light if they wish to.
    Iridescent Sharks are most comfortable and disease resistant in bright, neutral to slightly acid water that's moderately soft to moderately hard. Ideal temps are the mid-70's Fahrenheit; these fish do not do well above 79 degrees. They are very sensitive to high Nitrate levels; under 20 ppm is best, though one can invest in a Nitrate Reactor to keep Nitrate at zero ppm.
    Iridescent Sharks are easily fed. They like crustaceans and vegetables. White fish flesh can be fed as a treat, as can earthworms. A variety of high-grade pelleted foods can be staple; get at least one that's primarily a meaty food, and one that's designed for herbivores; those that have large amounts of kelp and Spirulina.
    As larger fish will happily eat smaller ones when the occasion presents itself, tankmates for a school of Iridescent Sharks must be chosen with great, great care. Despite their size, Iridescent Sharks are very easily intimidated, so finding fish that grow too large to eat and won't bother the catfish can be a challenge.
    Iridescent Sharks can live for more than 20 years properly kept.

    At the other end of the size spectrum and well worth seeking out are the Hummingbird Catfish - Rama chandramara.
    Also called the Gold Shadow and the Hovering Catfish, these diminutive natives of India and Bangladesh top out at 2 inches. Ideal for the planted aquarium - and it's in these tanks these catfish do best - make it ideal to keep with Rasboras and Dwarf Goramies. Rama is by nature shy, and a school of Rasboras acting normally makes the catfish far more visible. Rama is happiest in a group of five or six, or more of it's fellows.
    Rama earns its common names for its habit of hovering over the substrate, rapidly moving its ventral fins humming-bird like as the catfish looks with its large eyes for tidbits. The Gold Shadow common name refers to the catfish's partially transparent, deep yellow tinged, body.
    Last edited by Dave66; 06-22-2008 at 08:18 AM.
    When a finger points to the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.

    Omnia mutantur nihil interit.

    The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go

  2. Default Part 2

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    Rama need high Oxygen levels to truly thrive; at last 8 mg/l should be available at all times. Well-planted aquariums with Co2 injection should have no problem maintaining high Oxygen levels, but aireation should be employed at night to keep your catfish healthy and happy. Rama does best in water between pH 6.0 and 7.0, and moderately soft. Temps should be between 75 and 78. The tank should be very well filtered, as Rama rarely tolerate dissolved toxins like high Nitrate, which is another reason they do best in planted tanks, as established planted aquariums rarely if ever have Nitrate problems.
    Ramas forage the substrate head down, but cruise normally after sinking pellets or Daphnia. As for food they should suit the catfishes' small size. Small worms, either live or frozen, are favorites. Prepared foods are usually rejected for some time before they learn they are food. High-grade pellets fed to the Rasboras usually gets it into the Ramas' heads that the pellets are food, but be patient with them, as the catfishes usually come around.
    If you wish to culture small worms to feed to your Hummingbird Cats, contact me for culturing information.
    To my knowledge these fish have yet to be successfully bred in the home aquarium.

    Even smaller and just as charming as above are the Two Spot Catfish; Mystus bimaculatus of Sumatra.
    This is one fish the common name in no way does this little fish justice. A warm, peachy gold body with a jet black spot behind the gills and another at the base of the tail describe this little fish, which tops out at 1.5 inches. Mystus means mustache in Latin, as Mystax, and describes the barbels of this fish, as several pairs sprout from the corners of its mouth
    There are but two caveats in keeping the 2 Spot Cats. They MUST be kept in very well planted tanks. They also need soft, acidic water; no higher than pH 7.0. Temps between 74 and 80 degrees are fine.
    Native to the peaty swamps of Sumatra, filtration through peat moss is very helpful. 2 Spot Cats like company of their fellows, so feel free to keep six or more of them.
    On the great plus side is they eat most suitably-sized fish foods. Pelleted foods can be staple, but vary them. Frozen foods like bloodworms are a favorite, as are live worms and Daphnia. Those foods should be fed three or four times a week. Feed your catfish small meals two or three times a day.
    These catfish are ideal tankmates for Glass Catfish, Rasboras and smaller anabatoids. The larger Pearl Goramies are also good tankmates for the catfish.
    A very charming species, one of my favorite Asian catfish.
    Breeding can be achieved if the tank they are kept in has peat as a substrate and the catfish are the only occupants of the tank. Females are obviously filled with eggs due to their girth. A cooling partial water change of 20 percent with filtered rainwater, distilled or reverse osmosis water usually triggers breeding. The eggs fall into the peat, where the parents can't get them.
    The acid in the peat provide the enzymes to allow the eggs to hatch in about two days. The fry usually appear on the substrate two days later. I was able to raise about half of the fry on Rotifers and microworms as first foods the single time I bred them.

    Often mistaken for the African version when small, the Asian Upside Down Catfish is our next species.
    Mystus leucophasis, a jet black beauty, is a true upside down species as it spends most of its time inverted. Gold flecks sparkle from the sides of mature fish. A fan of barbels surround the mouth.
    Asian UD Cats do reach a foot long and can eat fish nearly 3/4s its size, so tankmates should be chosen with care, lest they be eaten. Avoid slow moving fish, as they will be harassed. Fish like adult Tinfoil Barbs are ideal tankmates as they grow larger than the catfish.
    Though it prefers bright, neutral water, the catfish is highly adaptable, as long as you avoid extremes of hardness and pH. Mid-70's to 80 degrees are the Asian UD Catfishes' best temperature range.
    Asian UD Cats are hearty eaters, and will happily take whatever you give them. Meaty foods, like white fish flesh, are preferred, as are small crustaceans like shrimp. Vegetable-based foods should be give two or three times a week. A high-quality pelleted food should be the staple.
    Each catfish needs its own cave or PVC pipe to call home, so be sure to provide multiple hidey holes for each one, or there will be fighting over choice real estate. Otherwise, a perfectly peaceful fish.
    To my knowledge they haven't been bred in home aquariums. The vast majority of those available are commercially farmed in Asia.

    Nearly a duplicate of their South American brethren, the Asian Bumblebee Catfish is our next species.
    Pseudomystus siamensis, a native of the slow, weed-choked sections of the Bangpakong River in Thailand, have but a single fault: they are very much nocturnal fishes. They can be reformed a bit when they learn that food is given during the day, but their nature is to forage at night.
    Thus, it's a good idea to drop in a few pellets for your catfish about an hour or two after lights out. They can, however, be trained to eat in the day in time. A worthwhile endeavor, considering its looks.
    Asian Bumble Cats, which reach six inches, sport a chocolate brown body bisected by five or six whitish to, in exceptional examples, golden yellow broad stripes. Two long, curled, barbels sprout from the corners of the mouth like a dandy's mustache. Four pairs of smaller whiskers come from the nasal area and are behind the long ones. The colors of this fish get more and more intense as it ages, and adults can be simply stunning in their rich chocolate and brilliant gold. Even the lateral line can be golden.
    The natural diet for these fish are insect larvae and small crustaceans, so it should be duplicated as much as possible in captivity at LEAST three times a week. Worms, either live or frozen, are appreciated. A quality, meaty, pelleted food should be staple. One must make sure their Bumblebee cat gets his share of food, as though they forage steadily, their eye sight isn't the best, and it takes them a bit of time to find it by scent and through the whiskers.
    Asian Bumblebees are ideal for the larger planted tank, and they do best in them. They do prefer the same waters that the plants do; slightly acid and moderately soft, though the catfish is adaptable as long as extremes are avoided. They must have a pitch dark cave to call their own, or they are nervous, uncomfortable fish. A suitably-sized cave in a large piece of driftwood is ideal, as it mimics their home. They don't seem to like stone structures as caves, in my experience. Every one I've had headed right for the driftwood when added to the tank, and all of them excavated deep caves under the wood. That being dangerous, as the wood can shift and crush the catfish, it's better to carve out a cave in the wood. Just make sure it's deep and very dark.
    They can also be the catfish for the temperate, 72 degree tank. They don't do well over 78 degrees.
    As they are nocturnal and will eat small fishes it finds on it's patrols, it behooves one to stock their planted tank with fishes that grow to over 2.5 inches.
    A neat fish to have. Recommended.

    Though simply a Chestnut brown, Mystus castaneus, the Pearl Catfish, is our final species.
    Though it's virtually a plain Jane, it's the character and behavior that make this six-inch fish worth having.
    Pearl Cats are one of the few Mystus species that really enjoy the company of its fellows. A group of four or six will be seen all day probing nooks and crannies with their long whiskers looking for tidbits. They are bold in action, affable to tankmates too large to eat, and one of the few Bagrids that can be recommended for the community tank.
    Like all catfish, if it small and asleep, it will be eaten, so it'd be foolish to keep your Pearl Cats with neon tetra-sized fish. Anything a third their size is safe.
    Ideally, a community tank stocked with schooling mid-water fish like decent-sized barbs and Rasboras would be best for your Peal Catfish, as it would remind them of home at the Malay Peninsula. Kept mine with Clown and Checker Barbs.
    Planted aquariums are great for Pearl Cats well furnished with driftwood and rounded stones. Its a good idea to provide twice as many cave-like holes as Pearl Cats, as though they like each other very much, they do like to have their alone time once in a while.
    They do best in water slightly to moderately acid in pH, soft, and 75 to 80 degrees.
    They normally eat quality frozen (best) foods like bloodworms, and prepared pelleted foods right away, so feeding is rarely a problem with them. Small meals given often are best, and they will have no trouble consuming all food in well under a minute.
    Pearl Catfish are one of the very, very few Mystus cats that can be bred in the home aquarium. The spawning tank should be kept at pH 6.8, very soft, and 75 degrees. A cooling partial (no more than 25 percent) water change that reduces the tank temperature by three or four degrees. Make sure the water change water is very, very soft and clean. Filtered rain water is perfect.
    About a third of the time the cooling change results in a spawning within half a day. Males spread their fins wide and do a sideways dance for the prospective mate. If accepted, the male and female lock fins, she rolls over on her back, and hundreds of eggs are expelled. They stick everywhere.
    Eggs hatch in a day at 75. Two to three days later the fry are ready for food. Mine took to microworms right away, and most were more than an inch long in three weeks.
    Last edited by Dave66; 06-22-2008 at 08:15 AM.
    When a finger points to the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.

    Omnia mutantur nihil interit.

    The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go

  3. Default

    0 Not allowed!
    Asian catfish are as unique as the part of the world they come from, and provide the fish keeper with something other than the norm. Though it may take some hunting to find some of them, they will provide interest and color to the tank. I encourage those interested to do further research on their selected species. Searching by scientific name will give better results.

    When a finger points to the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.

    Omnia mutantur nihil interit.

    The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go

  4. #4


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    Great Threaddd!!!
    IT IS MY FAVORITE FISH!! very mis kept
    Last edited by The Red Severum; 06-22-2008 at 02:25 PM.

  5. #5


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    great thread..........
    angelcakes (penny)
    "The big fish eats the small one."
    -- Sephardic saying

    chat link

  6. #6

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    Once again Dave you have outdone yourself, awsome thread and great read. Thanks for the primer.

    Aye Aye

  7. #7


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    Thanks Dave, makes me want to go out and get a nice school of 12+ K. minor. They are a fish I have always admired. Looks like I need to get an Asian themed tank going. LOL
    Considering a Marine Aquarium? A Breakdown of the Components, Live Rock, Cycling a Marine Tank

    "The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The WILLINGNESS to learn is a choice." - Unknown

  8. #8


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    I was JUST looking for info on asian cats! Thanks sooooo much!
    30 gallon
    Heavily Planted SE Asian biotope
    -2 SAE's, 13 threadfin rainbows, 6 White Cloud Mtn. Minnows and a dwarf gourami

    12 gallon
    2 bamboo shrimp, couple cherry shrimp, 10 neons, 6 CPD's and 8 spotted rasboras

    75 gallon
    South American tank
    -1 Firemouth , 1 blue acara

  9. Default

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    Thanks for the kind words, folks, I really appreciate it, and the positive reps :)
    Just wish the editing button had stayed longer so I could clean up the typos, italicize all the scientific names, and replace the stuff I had to cut out to make the Asian thing fit on two pages.
    I'm on a catfish kick now, so they'll be more bewhiskered ones coming as I comb my mind on what all I've kept over the years.

    When a finger points to the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.

    Omnia mutantur nihil interit.

    The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go

  10. #10


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    Great article as always!
    Dave, Do you by any chance know a good source of information for synodontis (upsidedown) catfish? Brown and black "tribal-like" markings...
    30g - 4 female dalmatian Mollies, 1 female gold crescent Swordtail, 1 female pineapple Swordtail, 2 female black and white Platies, 3 female peppered Platy fry, 2 female Guppies, 1 male Guppy, 10 Harlequin Rasboras, 1 peppered Cory, 1 bronze Cory
    10g - 1 male Dwarf Gourami, 1 Synodontis catfish, 1 female shark-fin Platy, 1 male hi-fin Platy
    10g - 12 Red Cherry Shrimp, 36 Fry (Mollies, Platies, Guppies)

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