Article © Shane Linder, uploaded January 01, 2002.
Carl Ferraris and Mario de Pinna, after an in-depth review of the relevant literature, have published a comprehensive list of all family-group and other suprageneric names proposed for the order Siluriformes. Their findings will undoubtedly cause a few groans from hobbyists, as we now have to learn some new names. Still other hobbyists may be disappointed that the authors chose not retain such families as the Ageneiosidae. However, this new paper is important. While the rules that govern generic and specific names are very stringent, family level names do not come under such scrutiny. For many years it has been nearly impossible to know exactly how many catfish families legally (legal as defined by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) exist. Hopefully, this paper will provide some, at least temporary, stability to the number of catfish families.
A complete discussion of taxonomic terminology is beyond the scope of this paper, but a brief introduction to some of the terminology is certainly in order. Phylogeny (from the Greek phylon = tribe and genesis = origin) is the evolutionary history of a species or group of related species. These genealogies trace evolutionary relationships. Reconstructing phylogenetic history is part of the scope of systematics, the branch of biology concerned with the diversity of life. Systematics encompasses taxonomy, which is the identification and classification of species. A family, as used in this paper, is a taxonomic grouping below order and above genus. Family names for plants always end in acae while those of animals, like catfishes, always end in idae.
The family level is an important classification for hobbyists. If the aquarist knows which family a fish belongs to they can immediately make inferences about the fish's diet, adult size, natural habitat, and other important information for captive maintenance. This is especially true in those cases where the aquarist is lucky enough to make one of those truly rare finds. At these times, it can be almost impossible to identify the fish to genus, let alone species and identification to family is the best we can hope for.
Below is a list of the 35 catfish families accepted by the authors after their review of the literature. I will make a few comments under each family to point out any radical changes or changes that affect popular aquarium catfishes. I will also point out common family names where they exist or have been confused and comment on the family's availability in the aquarium trade. I have taken the liberty of suggesting a few common names for some of the newer families.
Asian family rarely imported for the aquarium trade. Collectively known as the Asian banjo catfishes (Ferraris, 1991: 164) or stream catfishes (Jayaram, 1999: 266). The family Parakysidae, (Roberts, 1989), pustulous catfishes (Kottelat et al 1993: 105), is included in this family.
Very rarely imported family from Asia. Collectively known as the loach-catfishes (Burgess, 1989: 107).
Very rarely imported family found in Africa. Collectively known as the African hillstream catfishes (Burgess: 109) or mountain catfishes (Skelton, 1993: 218).
Erected by Glaw and Vences, 1994 to accommodate Ancharius Steindachner, 1881. De Pinna proposed the family in an unpublished thesis. I have not seen the original description and thus cannot add much. The family is found on Madagascar. I am not aware of any common name or importations.
Proposed by Gayet, 1988 to accommodate the fossil genus and species Andinichthys bolivianensis from South America. Obviously not an aquarium import.
A worldwide family known as the sea catfishes (Burgess, 1989: 158; Ferraris, 1991: 82) or shark catfishes (Baensch & Riehl, 1997: 434) even though some members are restricted to freshwater. Allen (1989:47) uses the term fork-tailed catfishes. Known in the hobby mainly for the Arius species imported as "shark catfish."
A South American family known as the banjo catfishes (Burgess: 295). A number of species are common imports.
Collectivly known as the driftwood catfishes (Burgess: 226). The family Ageneiosidae, the slopehead catfishes, appears to be included under this family, but is not specifically discussed. Imports range from the common (e.g. the Zamora or midnight catfish) to the rare (e.g. the jaguar catfish) to the very rare.
Collectively known as the rock catfishes (Skelton, 1993: 215), this family was erected by Mo, 1991 to accommodate the South African genus Austroglanis. All three species contained in the family are rare in nature and threatened or endangered by habitat destruction.
The family Bagridae, after Mo's 1991 revision, is now an exclusively Asian family with the exception of a single genus, Bagrus, that occurs in Africa. The family Olyridae, bannertail catfishes (Burgess: 153), is also now included in the Bagridae. Many members of the family are common to rare imports. Collectively known as the bagrid catfishes.
A South American family well known in the aquarium hobby especially for the members of the genus Corydoras. Collectively known as the armored catfishes Riehl & Baensch (1991: 453).
A South American family known as the whale catfishes (Burgess: 289). One or two species are rarely imported. Helogenidae, the marbled catfishes (Burgess: 287), is included in Cetopsidae.
A small Asian family of three species that are uncommonly imported. Collectively known as the frogmouth catfishes (Burgess: 151). The common name angler catfishes has also been applied (Ferraris: 109) but should not be used as it appears that Chaca do not angle (Linder, 1998: 3).
Collectively known as the labyrinth catfishes (Burgess: 135), walking catfishes (Baensch & Riehl, 1997: 484), and air-breathing catfishes (Skelton: 227) this family is widely distributed throughout Africa and Asia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared them "injurious wildlife" and their import is banned (Ferraris: 113). Occasional specimens come in to the U.S. as by-catch or contaminants.
Erected by Mo, 1991 to accommodate most of the African genera that were formerly of the Bagridae. This family is composed of 13 genera and over 90 species and are referred to simply as Claroteid catfishes (Skelton: 211). A few members of the genera Auchenoglanis, Parauchenoglanis, Chrysichthys, Clarotes, Gephyroglanis, Lophiobagrus, and Phyllonemus are uncommon to rare imports (Glaser, 2000).
Known as Chinese catfishes (Burgess: 72) this Asian family contains but one species that has not been imported.
A South American family known as the Patagonian catfishes (Burgess: 23). This small family, with about four species, has not been imported. They are found in swift cool streams in Chile and Argentina.
A popular South American family known as the talking catfishes (Burgess: 199 Ferraris: 114) and thorny catfishes (Riehl & Baensch, 1991: 453). Importations range from common (the so-called raphaels) to rare.
This Asian family consists of Conta, Laguvia, Pseudolaguvia, Erethistoides, Hara, and Erethistes that are genera removed from the family Sisoridae. A few genera are uncommon to rare imports. No common name has been applied to this family. De Pinna erected the family in 1996. However, some subsequent authors (e.g. Jayaram, 1999) have not followed de Pinna's findings, while others have (e.g. Grant, 1999: 9). Hopefully, Ferraris and de Pinna's 1999 paper will stabilize the use of this family.
This small Asian family are referred to as airsac catfishes (Burgess, 148), fossil catfishes, and stinging catfishes (Ferraris, 121). Imports have become rare in recent years. Perhaps because of the restrictions placed on the closely related family Clariidae.
Hypsidoridae Erected for the fossil catfish genus Hypsidoris Lundberg and Case, 1970.
A primarily North American family. Although maintained by a few specialist aquarists there is no organized commercial trade in place for the aquarium hobby. The only species commercially traded are juvenile channel catfishes that are brought into the hobby trade by aquaculture enterprises. Riehl and Baensch (1991: 453) use horned pouts as a common name and Burgess (1989: 26) uses bullhead catfishes . However, this latter name is normally applied only to members of the genus Ameiurus. Members of Ictalurus are commonly known as forktail catfishes, Pylodictus as the flathead catfish, and the largest genus Noturus as the madtoms. The common name should be standardized as North American catfishes as it is the only family native to the continent.
A large South American family that is very popular in the aquarium hobby. Common names include armored sucker-mouthed catfishes and armored catfishes (Ferraris, 126). Armor-plated catfishes (Riehl and Baensch 1991: 453), suckermouth catfishes (Burgess: 368), suckermouthed armored catfishes (Innes, 1966: 285), and, of course, the plecos. Some scientific papers use armored catfishes while Isbrücker and Nijssen (two scientists that have done a lot of taxonomic work on the family) consistently use the term mailed catfishes. With so many common names in use, it is impossible to suggest a single universal common name.
A small African family known as the electric catfishes (Burgess: 155, Riehl & Baensch, 1991: 453). At least one species in an uncommon import.
A large and diverse African family. Burgess (182) uses the term upside-down catfishes but only a very few members of a single genus swim in this manner. Also, at least one bagrid is an upside-down swimmer. Skelton (240) divides the family into squeakers (Synodontis) and suckermouth catlets (Chiloglanis) which is certainly more descriptive. Because the family is so diverse as to defy a common descriptive name, the term mochokid catfishes should be used.
A small South American family consisting of a single genus. I am unaware of any importations of this family for the aquarium trade. The common name should be worm catfishes which follows from the family name and is descriptive of the family.
An Asian family referred to as the shark catfishes by Burgess (100). This term has also been applied to the Ariidae. One species (Pangasius hypophthalmus, the iridescent shark) is common. Other species are showing up in the trade as the result of aquaculture programs.
A large and popular South American family. Common names include antenna catfishes (Burgess: 243) and flat hosed (nosed?) catfishes (Riehl and Baensch, 1991: 453). Imports are common to rare depending on the species with Pseudopimelodus, Microglanis, and Pimelodus the most common. Hypophthalmidae, lookdown catfishes (Burgess: 293), are included in Pimelodidae.
A widely distributed family that includes marine species. Common names include tandan catfishes (Burgess: 171), eel-tailed catfishes (Ferraris: 157). The name eel-tailed catfishes is the most commonly accepted (Allen, 1989: 55 Jayaram, 1999: 317, Kottelat et al 1993: 113). Only one species, Plotosus lineatus, is a common import for the marine hobby.
A medium sized family found in Africa and Asia. Sometimes spelled Schilbeidae (Burgess: 87 Jayaram: 249). Common names include glass catfishes (Burgess: 87, Riehl & Baensch 1991: 453) and butter catfishes (Skelton: 224). However, the term schilbid catfishes is more descriptive as very few members are transparent and the term glass catfishes is also often applied to the Siluridae. Importation of one Eutropiellus and one Schilbe species is common, but all others, especially those from Asia, are rare.
A small family found in South America and referred to as spiny dwarf catfishes (Burgess: 450). Only very rarely imported and usually only as by-catch.
A large family found from Europe (two species) through Asia. Commonly known as sheat catfishes (Burgess: 74), glass catfishes (Ferraris: 161), old world catfishes (Riehl & Baensch 1991: 453), and sheath (Baensch & Riehl, 1997: 576). Sheat catfishes is the term preferred in most scientific works and should be used to refer to the family. Importation of Southeast Asian species ranges from common (various Kryptopterus) to uncommon (e.g. Ompok) to rare (e.g. Belodontichtys) with all other species rarely, if ever, imported.
A large Asian family commonly known as Asian hillstream catfishes (Burgess: 119) and sucking catfishes (Kottelat et al: 106). Asian hill stream catfishes in the most widely used name. Imports are generally rare. This appears to be mainly due to the high oxygen requirements and cooler temperatures demanded by most species. Neither of these requirements is conducive to commercial shipping.
A large South American family known as parasitic catfishes (Burgess: 305). This name is probably undeserved as most species are not parasitic. However, it is likely to remain in usage. Imports are rare and infrequent. These fish's undeserved reputation scares off many would be importers.
Allen G. R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. TFH Publications; Neptune City, New Jersey. 240 pp., 64 pls.
Baensch, H. A. & R. Riehl. 1997. Aquarium Atlas Volume Two. Mergus; Germany. 1212 pp. Second English Edition.
Burgess W. E. 1989. An Atlas of Freshwater and Marine Catfishes. TFH Publications; Neptune City, New Jersey. 784 pp.
Burgess W. & L. Finley. 1996. An Atalas of Freshwater and marine Catfishes: Update. Tropical Fish Hobbyist. Vol. XLV No. 2 (#488) October, 1996
Ferraris C. J. 1991. Catfish in the Aquarium. Tetra; Morris Plains, New Jersey. 199 pp.
Ferraris C. J. & M. C. de Pinna. 1999. Higher Level Names for Catfishes (Actinopterygii: Ostariophysi: Siluriformes). Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. Vol. 51 No. 1: 1-17.
Jayaram, K. C. 1999. The Freshwater Fishes of the Indian Region. Narendra Publishing House; Delhi, India. 551 pp., 28 pls.
Kottelat, M., A. J. Whitten, S. N. Kartikasari & S. Wirjoatmodjo, 1993. Freshwater Fishes of Western Indonesia and Sulawesi. Periplus Editions, Hong Kong, 221 pp., 84 pls.
Linder, R. S. 1998. The Catfishes of Asia: Chacidae. Newsletter, Northern Area Catfish Group. Issue No. 3: 3-6.
Mo, T. 1991. Anatomy, Relationships, and Systematics of the Bagridae (Teleostei: Siluroidei) with a Hypothesis of Siluroid Phylogeny. Koeltz, Koenigstein, viii +216pp.
Pethiyagoda R. 1991. Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka. Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka, Colombo, xiv+362pp.
Riehl, R. & H. A. Baensch. 1994. Aquarium Atlas. Mergus; Hong Kong. 992 pp. Fourth English edition, reprinted.
Riehl, R. & H. A. Baensch. 1996. Aquarium Atlas Volume Three. Mergus; Germany. 1104 pp.
Roberts T. R. 1989. The freshwater fishes of western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia). Mem. California Acad. Sci., 14: 1-210.
Skelton, P. 1993. A Complete Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers; Halfway House. 388 pp.
Back to Shane's World index.