Catfish of the Month Right Arrow October 2006

Belodontichthys dinema   (Bleeker, 1851)

Article © Heok Hee Ng, uploaded October 01, 2006.

A very grateful webmaster would like to say thanks again to Heok Hee Ng for providing this article at short notice, also of note is that this is our first article written in Singapore! It's with thanks that I hand over to Heok Hee.

Back in 2004, I wrote an article featuring the large predatory silurid, Wallago leerii. This month's article features another large predatory silurid with a fearsome grin, Belodontichthys dinema. That Belodontichthys is a predatory fish is immediately obvious from its countenance, which sports more wicked-looking, arrow-shaped teeth than the larger, chunkier Wallago. The fearsome grin aside, the other prominent feature of Belodontichthys is its very large and broad pectoral fin which it occasionally flaps when swimming. Unlike Wallago, Belodontichthys seems to be mostly head and little else. The silvery, compressed body is relatively much smaller, to the extent that the very large head and pectoral fins look somewhat mismatched on it.

Belodontichthys is found in the deeper parts of rivers and is known to feed on migrating shoals of cyprinids and at surface and midwater levels, occasionally jumping out of the water in pursuit of its prey. Like Wallago, the flesh is said to make good eating and is popular in Thailand, although it is said to die immediately after being taken from the water, with the flesh deteriorating quickly.

The large pectoral fins and the slender body become immediately obvious once you observe the manner in which Belodontichthys feeds. After stalking its prey, and sidling slowly up towards it, the catfish lunges upwards and strikes, opening its jaws to engulf its prey. Admittedly, this mode of feeding is observed only in captive specimens and it is very likely that in the wild, Belodontichthys is a more actively swimming predator.

Belodontichthys show up for sale every now and then, almost always as juveniles (both B. dinema and the very similar B. truncatus are exported for the aquarium trade). While they are generally peaceful towards tankmates that are too large to be eaten (this despite their battery of sharp teeth), they are best kept in a species tank, as they can be somewhat skittish. My experience with this species is that they will accept only live food. I was able to condition my Wallago leerii to take frozen food as the fish learned to associate the opening of the tank cover with being fed, but not so the Belodontichthys. With this catfish, it was live food or nothing as it would require some movement of the prey to catch its attention before it began to feed (simulating movement of the prey by waving frozen food around does not work due to the skittish nature of the fish). The other thing I noted was that Belodontichthys appears to be strictly piscivorous. While other large predatory silurids will readily consume anything that moves in the water (e.g. frogs, large shrimp), Belodontichthys will ignore these and consume only fish.

One last thing to note is to remember to plan for the eventual size of the fish (especially considering the fact that this is a fish that needs quite a bit of swimming room), should you decide to purchase one. I have regularly encountered Belodontichthys measuring 40 cm (15.7") SL or more in fish markets, and it is safe to assume that they are capable of reaching at least up to this size.

Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.

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