Asian Catfish: A Primer
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.
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