Catfish of the Month Right June 2011

Clarias alluaudi
Alluaud's Walking Catfish, Ssemutundu (Ugandan) - Clarias alluaudi   Boulenger, 1906

Article © Shane Linder, uploaded June 15, 2011.

In May 2011, I journeyed from Scotland to Uganda to meet with my great fish collecting friend Shane. On the flights over, I dreamed of the fishes we might encounter, perhaps an unfamilar Synodontis, electric Catfish or mighty Bagrus would be the catfish of the trip; but it turned out to be a small, brown eel like catfish which I very quickly fell for. I've added some video and map information from the trip to augment Shane's excellent article which he begins with the Bagandan proverb:

View Larger Map
Route from Fort Portal to collection site in video below.

Buli wa mamba — awana yiye - "Every catfish owner praises one's own"

Uganda is a country blessed by a number of large wetlands given its relatively flat terrain and the flow of the Victorian Nile through a significant portion of its national territory. An estimated thirteen percent of the country is categorized as wetlands. For the most part, these areas contain heavily vegetated, sluggish waterways. Spilling forth from Lake Victoria, the world's largest tropical lake, the Victorian Nile flows northward until it reaches Lake Kyoga (pronounced Choga). Lake Kyoga is a large depression that is as much a huge swamp as it is a proper lake. The deepest part of the lake is just over five meters (15 feet), but the majority of the lake is less than four meters deep (12 feet).

Uganda's wetlands provide a unique habitat for many birds and fishes, but also for a few stranger creatures such as the sitatunga, or marshbuck, a swamp dwelling antelope that will submerge itself in water, with only its nostrils above the surface, to escape predators. These antelope have even been recorded sleeping while submerged in this manner. Well over 50 species of fishes have been recorded from these habitats, they include representatives of five different catfish families.

Undoubtedly the most common papyrus swamp catfish encountered is Clarias alluaudi. In fact it is rare to collect in a swampy area in Uganda and not capture several of them. Although some sources claim these fish reach lengths of 35 centimeters (13.7 inches), these claims are almost certainly due to misidentifying this fish with its close relative the larger Clarias werneri. In the wild, I have never caught C. alluaudi larger than 16 centimeters. I have a pair that I captured at about that size, and after a year of captive maintenance, they are still slightly under 20 centimeters standard length (8 inches). This species does not appear restricted to a spawning season as I have captured juveniles, as small as two centimeters, at various times of the year.

The author collecting a juvenile in the wild.

Clarias alluaudi share their natural habitat with several potentially attractive fishes. They are commonly found with Victorian mouthbrooding cichlids (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae), Ocellated labrynth fish (Ctenopoma muriei), numerous species of barbs and several smaller species of killifish such as Nothobranchius spp. In area closer to lakes they will also share their habitat with Victorian cichlids. Other catfishes they might be found with include Synodontis afrofischeri, other Clariids, Schilbe and Malapterurus.

In the aquarium I have found them to be peaceful, if active (and at feeding time downright boisterous), fishes. While they are certainly capable of eating smaller fishes I have never actually seen them do so, even when kept with newborn livebearer fry. Their natural diet consists mainly of insects, but in captivity they will not hesitate to eat any type of aquarium food offered. In fact, it is more important to make sure their tankmates receive enough to eat before the Clarias gobble it all up. The only time I have witnessed aggression in this fish is when more than one is kept together. I kept two in a 55 gallon tank for nearly a year and the subdominate fish (which was actually the larger of the two) always had minor abrasions from scuffles. The Synodontis and cichlids in this same 55 gallon tank were basically ignored by the Clarias unless they were being knocked out of the way at feeding time.

An ideal biotope for these fish would replicate their natural habitat and contain large amounts of submersed and emerged plants. The water would be slightly tinted with blackwater extract and soft with a near neutral pH. That said, I think this species would do well in any set up that was reasonably well maintained. I am unaware of any reported spawning in captivity, but given this species small size it would be an excellent candidate for an attempt at aquarium breeding.

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

Down Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific Name Clarias alluaudi  Boulenger, 1906
Common Names Alluaud's Walking Catfish
Ssemutundu (Ugandan)
Type Locality Lake Victoria [Victoria Nyanza].
Synonym(s) Clarias hilgendorfi
Pronunciation klar ee ass
Etymology Clarias: From the Greek chlaros, meaning lively; in reference to the ability of the fish to live for long periods out of water. In honour of C. Alluaud.
Down Species Information
Size 350mm or 13.8" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
Identification Clarias species are characterized by having an elongated body; a soft rayed dorsal fin extending to, or nearly to, the caudal fin base; a soft rayed anal fin extending from just behind the anus to the caudal fin base; pectoral fins each with a serrated anterior bony spine; head depressed, covered largely by firmly sutured, surface sculptured bony plates forming a protective helmet; four pairs of flagellate barbels (nasals, maxillaries, inner and outer mandibulars); air breathing organs derived from the 2nd and 4th epibranchials within a superbranchial chamber.

Dorsal soft rays (total): 65 - 79; Anal soft rays: 57 - 64; Vertebrae: 52 - 55. Pectoral fin spine serrated on both inner and outer sides. Head oval-shaped in dorsal outline; snout short and slightly rounded; eyes more dorsally located. Frontal fontanelle long and narrow (`knife-shaped'); occipital fontanelle long and oval-shaped. Supraorbital and `dermospenoticum' joined. Tooth plates relatively small. gill rakers long, slender and distantly set. Suprabranchial organ well developed. Openings of the secondary sensory canals regularly arranged on flanks.The whole fish is uniformly brownish, lighter on the belly, which never is whitish as for example in C.gariepinus.
General Remarks A standard length of 35cm would be very large for this species and is most likely a mix-up with another species, most stay under 20cm. In and around Lake Rukwa the fish is common in smaller streams or swamps of the basin outside the lake.Probably there is some kind of ecological competition and C. alluaud is displaced from the lake by the larger C.gariepinus.This species can even be found in mountain streams if there is not too much current.
Down Habitat Information
Distribution Africa: Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Edward, Rukwa and Tanganyika.
African Waters, Western Rift Valley Lakes, Victoria (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Western Rift Valley Lakes, Edward (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Nile, Upper Nile, White Nile, Kyoga (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Western Rift Valley Lakes, Tanganyika (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Southern Rift Lakes, Rukwa (click on these areas to find other species found there)

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IUCN Red List Category Least Concern, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2015.
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding In the wild feeds mainly on insects, in the aquarium it is likely to be a typical clariid and be omnivorous and predatory, therefore will eat virtually anything that can be considered edible. User data.
Furniture In the wild found in marginal water-lily and papyrus swamps, so very well rooted plants and structures such as pipes that provide some shade and hiding places.
Compatibility Should be be housed with lively, robust fish.Keeping in mind the smaller adult size as compared to other species of it's genus.
Suggested Tankmates Medium to larger sized barbs, Ctenopoma, mid-sized Lake Victoria cichlids.
Breeding Not reported.
Breeding Reports There is no breeding report.
Down Further Information
Reference Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Series 7) v. 17 (no. 101) (art. 49), pp 437.
Registered Keepers There is no registered keeper.
Wishlists Love this species? Click the heart to add it to your wish list.
There is no wish to keep this species.
Spotters Spotted this species somewhere? Click the binoculars!
There are 2 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
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Last Update 2019 Oct 13 03:09 (species record created: 2011 Jun 15 09:45)

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