Catfish of the Month February 2001 • Article © Chris Ralph, uploaded February 01, 2001
Black Talking Catfish, Black Doras, Mother Of Snails Catfish, Ripsaw Catfish, Schwarzer Dornwels (Germany), Turushuki Catfish - Oxydoras niger (Valenciennes, 1817)
Kindly taking time off from answering catfish queries for Practical
Fishkeeping Magazine and writing a book on Pufferfish, Chris Ralph introduces
this month's featured catfish. As a devoted catfish fanatic for a number of
years (probably more than he cares to remember) Chris has chosen to write this
month about one of his all time favourites.
The Mother of Snails Catfish is not very commonly seen, although if
you have kept one of these Doradids, then it is one that you will not forget in
a hurry - due to the size to which it can grow. For this reason I have ended up
with a small collection of these fish (ten at the last count!), all rescued
from aquarists who can no longer accommodate them. I personally would not
recommend that they be kept in any aquarium which is under 72" x 24" x 24",
and, really, even this sized aquarium will be eventually outgrown. My
collection is housed in a 12' x 48" x 36" tropical pond, which just about
allows them space to swim and turn comfortably.
These catfish are usually offered for sale as juvenile specimens at
around 4" in length. The unsuspecting aquarist will have taken on more than he
bargained for, while a genuine enthusiast will already know a bit about these
fish and their requirements prior to their purchase. The colour of these fish
is basically dark brown to black - hence the name Black Doradid. If you own one
of these catfish, you will know that feeding time can be a rather wet
experience, even with tight fitting cover glasses, or in my case an open topped
pond! I have lost count of the number of soakings that I have had over the
I purchased my first Mother of Snails Catfish about fifteen years or
so ago. The first one that I owned was around 10" long SL (25cm) and very
rapidly outgrew a 72" x 18"x 18" aquarium. I eventually purchased a larger
aquarium 72" x 24" x 36" and went on to keep this fish for a number of years.
When the fish died from bacterial infection it was almost 28" in length, and
would have required an even larger aquarium before long. This was really the
main reason behind the construction of the tropical pond, although I must admit
that I had not envisaged keeping 10 all at the same time.
The Mother of Snails Catfish
belongs to the Family Doradidae, all of which originate from various locations
throughout South America. Occasionally amongst imports of Oxydoras
niger there are some slightly different specimens which tend to have black
coloured fins and a grey coloured body. These so-called contaminants are
Oxydoras holdeni. One of the main characteristics of the Doradids is
the presence of thorn-like projections along the side of the body, which are
known as scutes. These scutes are very sharp, so care should be taken when
moving these fish. These razor sharp scutes give rise to another of the fishes
common names - the ripsaw catfish. This name tends to me more commonly
encountered in the US. Sometimes literature refers to the Doradids as "Talking
Catfish" due to the fact that they can be heard to make audible noises, almost
as if speaking to one another.
As yet, there are no records of these catfish having been successfully
bred under aquarium conditions. Perhaps with the space available to my
collection of these fascinating fish, it may just be a matter of time before I
witness some kind of spawning activity. I will of course record my
Dr. Rudiger Riehl & Hans A. Baensch. Aquarium Atlas Vol. 2. (Baensch - Tetra Press 1993).
David Sands. Catfishes of the World Vol. 4 Aspredinidae, Doradidae & Loricariidae. (Dunure Publications 1984)
Gina Sandford and Richard Crow. Interpet Manual of Tankbusters (Salamander Books 1991).
Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.
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