Of all of the catfishes in the world, hobbyists are probably the least familiar with those species that come from Asia. These days even general pet stores often carry a wide assortment of Loricariids, Pimelodids, and Corydoras from South America. Catfish from Africa that used to be considered rare, such as Synodontis angelicus and S. multipunctatus, can now be found with little effort. However, try find a single Asian catfish, other than a Glass cat (Kryptopterus minor) or Iridescent Shark (Pangasius hypophthalmus), and the hunt is on! Multitudes of barbs, danios, rasboras, and gouramis from Asia are widely available in our hobby and yet the catfish that share habitats with all of these common fish are rarely available. It is the purpose of this series of articles not only to inform the reader, but also to pique more hobbyist's interests in this understudied area of our hobby.
Asia, including the subcontinent of India, is home to wide variety of catfish. Catfish from the families Cranoglanididae, Siluridae, Schilbeidae, Clariidae, Akysidae, Amblycipitidae, Parakysidae, Chacidae, Pangasiidae, Plotosidae, Ariidae, Sisoridae, and Bagridae can all be found in Asia. One of the largest families in Asia is the family Bagridae. Bagrids are of special interest to us because more species of this family are available in the hobby than of any other Asian catfish family.
The family Bagridae has a huge range and members of this family can be found throughout all of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The bagrids are also a very diverse family ranging from Bagrus meridionalis, the largest fish native to Lake Malawi, to the diminutive Hyalobagrus flavus of Southeast Asia that rarely exceeds one inch. Bagrids are sometimes referred to as Old World pimelodids and many bagrids do in fact look very similar to some pimelodids. Perhaps it would be more fair though to refer to pimelodids as New World bagrids since many scientists believe that several other catfish families evolved from a bagrid-like ancestor. More than one aquarium book has a photo of a pimelodid that is mislabeled as a bagrid. However, bagrids with barbels can be distinguished from pimelodids easily as the later always lack nasal barbels.
In Asia there are 15 genera belonging to Bagridae. Of the 15 genera, species of six can be found in the US aquarium trade with some regularity. Included amongst these six are Mystus, Batasio, Leiocassis, Bagrichthys, Hyalobagrus, and Hemibagrus. Members of the genera Rita, Nanobagrus, Pseudomystus, Bagroides, Coreobagrus, Olyra, Neotropius, Pseudobagrus, and Sperata either have never been imported to the US, have not been imported for some time, or are imported so rarely that they are nearly impossible to find.
Let us begin our tour of Bagridae with the genus Batasio. The genus Batasio presently contains four species and three of these can be found in the trade from time to time. Members of this genus range from India throughout Southeast Asia. Although not common, Batasio tengana is the most widely available species in the hobby. There are actually two very different looking fish, possibly two valid species, that currently are classified as B. tengana. One form, from India, is a mottled pinkish brown. A photo can be found on page 307 of Baensch's Aquarium Atlas III . The second form comes from Southeast Asia and is a golden brown in colour with a darker saddle shaped band before the dorsal fin and a dark black spot midway between the anal and adipose fin. The snout of the Southeast Asian form is also noticeably more rounded than that of the Indian form. The Southeast Asian form has been given the common names Golden Asian Cat and Black and Yellow Lancer. Baensch reports that this fish reaches eight inches in length, but my specimens have only ever reached a maximum length of three inches. My observations are consistent with those of Jayaram who list three inches as the maximum size for this fish.
The Southeast Asian form has been bred in captivity. The fish spawned in soft neutral water, but raising the 200 plus fry proved difficult. Batasio, like most other bagrids, are easy to sex. The male has a visible genital papilla just fore of the anal fin. I have also observed that gravid female B. tengana are easy to identify because the pink eggs can be seen through their semi-transparent belly when they swim near the aquarium light. Both B. tengana do well in captivity. Personal experience has shown that the Southeast Asian form does require higher temperatures and seems to do best in water over 80°F.
Another species of Batasio found in the hobby, if you have a good eye, is B. batasio. This fish hails from northern India where it shares its habitat with another bagrid Mystus vittatus. B. batasio bears a remarkable resemblance to M. vittatus and it takes some practice to tell the two apart. The relationship between these two fish really needs further study because it appears that B. batasio is a sort of "imitator" catfish like members of the South American genus Brachyrhamdia. The best way to tell these fish apart is to look at the barbels. Those of B. batasio do not extend beyond the head. B. batasio reaches a maximum length of about four inches.
Batasio chandramara may also be found occasionally. This fish used to be the sole member of its own genus, Chandramara, but in 1991 was placed in the genus Batasio. B. chandramara is a pretty little catfish with a semi-transparent speckled body. B. chandramara comes from India and is fully grown at just over two inches. The final Batasio species, B. travancoria, is rare in its natural habitat and has never been imported.
The genus Pelteobagrus consists of about twenty species that are found mainly in China, Korea, and other parts of Northern Asia. Sadly, only two species of this genus make it to the American aquarium trade. The first species that can be found, Pelteobagrus ornatus, is the only member of the entire genus that comes from Southeast Asia. These wonderful little transparent catfish are mid-water swimmers. They seem to do best in a heavily planted tank with tankmates that will not out compete them for food. These fish relish frozen bloodworms and will gorge themselves on them. P. ornatus is sexually dimorphic, males possess a genital papilla, and gravid females are easy to spot since their blue-green eggs are visible through their bellies. To my knowledge this species has not been bred in captivity, but members of our society are trying.
P. fluvidraco is the only other member of this genus found in the hobby. It is most often found under the name "Chinese Dragon Catfish". This fish comes from northern China and southeast Siberia. It is not a tropical fish and requires cooler temperatures. This fish is a good candidate for the outdoor pond.
This has been a brief introduction to the family Bagridae. I hope that at least one of these species has increased your interest in the catfish of Asia. In the next issue we will finish up the remaining genera of Bagridae with the exception of the complex genus Mystus which deserves its own page.
Back to Shane's World index.