here are a number of catfish
that belong to the family Doradidae. Quite
often these fascinating catfish are referred to as
"Doradids", "Dorads", "Talking
Catfish", "Thorny Catfishes" and other
names, which cannot be mentioned, as they are too
rude! This group of catfish are found throughout South
America. There are small doradids and large doradids
commonly offered for sale at most good aquatic retailers.
The problem with some of the larger species such as
Pseudodoras niger (Mother of Snails Catfish/Black
Doradid) and Pterodoras granulosus (Common
Bacu) is the fact that they would soon outgrow a 72"x
24" x24" aquarium and are therefore not
ideally suited to life in an aquarium unless you can
provide a large enough aquarium or tropical pond to
house them in. As I do not wish to encourage any unsuspecting
aquarist to keep large catfish I will concentrate
this article on some of the smaller representatives
of this family of fish. Those of you that know me
will already be aware that this family of fish is
perhaps my favourite, as I am unable to resist walking
past a dealers tank without looking to see what doradids
lurk behind the décor.
Why are they referred
to as "Talking Catfishes" I hear you ask?
I will now attempt to answer this question. Doradids
have two ways in which they can produce "Talking
Sounds", which subsequently gives them their
common name. The first way of communicating sound
is by the fish partially locking their pectoral fins
in their sockets, and then the action of moving the
fins, the fin spines grate against the socket producing
the sound. The second way, in which these fish produce
sound is via a mechanism known as the "elastic
spring mechanism", there is a muscle that is
attached to the rear of the fishes skull at one end
and to the anterior of the swimbladder at the other
end. The fish is able to quickly contract and relax
this muscle and as a result it can make its air filled
swimbladder resonate to produce sound. These catfish
use these methods of communication as a means of self-defence
against would be predators and also as a way in which
they can find conspecifics in its natural environment
(or aquarium). The doradids can also be described
as narrow-breasted or broad-breasted. The narrow-breasted
species tend to have feathered barbels a characteristic
that the broad-breasted species do not posses. With
the broad-breasted species the width between the base
of the pectoral fin spines tends to exceed the length
of the head.
One of the main features
of this family of catfish is the fact that they posses
bony projections along the lateral length of their
bodies. These bony projections are known as "scutes",
which are very sharp just like thorns. These scutes
give this family of catfish an almost prehistoric
look about them. Care should be taken when removing
these fish from an aquarium as they all too often
get themselves snagged up in nets. When these catfish
are frightened they immediately lock their pectoral
and dorsal fin spines erect. These fins have serrated
edges and when locked makes the fish safe from would
be predators. If nets have to be used then they should
be very fine meshed in order to prevent the scutes
and fin spines from penetrating it. Some aquarists
prefer to pick these catfish up by their dorsal fins
taking care not the get their fingers trapped between
the pectoral fins and the scutes on the body of the
fish, as believe me this can be a very painful experience!
If you can use a plastic container or a plastic bag
in which to chase the fish this is perhaps the best
way of removing the fish from the aquarium. When removing
the larger species it is perhaps best to wrap the
fish in a bath towel(s) and lift it out of the water
(this tends to be a two person job one lifting the
head end the other the tail end taking care not to
cut your hands on the razor sharp scutes.
The ideal set-up for these catfish
would be an aquarium with a sand substrate such as
BD Aquarium sand or fine gravel. Décor should
include bogwood in which the catfish will hide, smooth
rocks to avoid damaging the bodies of these fish.
Some aquarists use plastic or clay pipes for their
catfish to hide in, if these materials are to be used
please ensure that they are large enough to allow
the catfish to be able to get out of. I have known
a number of people to lose their catfish as they have
become too large to get out of the pipe and they have
subsequently become stressed and died. Wherever possible
use large diameter pipes if they are to be used. I
would personally recommend an aquarium that is at
least 36" x 15" x 12"in order to keep
these catfish satisfactorily. The ideal water conditions
are pH 6.5-7.5, temperature in the range 22-26ºC
or 72-79ºF and dH up to 15º. These catfish
thrive on a mixed and varied diet that includes sinking
catfish pellets, granular foods, flake, tablet foods,
aquatic snails, shredded prawns, earthworms and frozen
foods such as bloodworm. As sand has been mentioned
as the ideal substrate for these catfish I would suggest
that internal power filtration or external canister
filtration be used, as under gravel filtration would
not be efficient as the sand would cause it to clog.
Weekly or fortnightly 20-25% water changes should
also be undertaken to ensure good water quality at
all times. When undertaking water changes always ensure
that you use a water dechlorinator, preferably one
that will treat both chlorine and chloramines, prior
to adding the fresh water to your aquarium.
I will now mention a few species that will not grow
into "Tank Busters" and would be ideally
suited to life in a community type aquarium. Please
bear in mind that whilst these catfishes are not predatory
they will eat any unsuspecting fish small enough to
fit inside their mouths. This said I have kept some
of the smaller doradids in with small fish, BUT I
am not recommending that you should. I will begin
with some of the more commonly seen species and mention
also some that are not so readily available.
known as the Humbug Catfish, the Striped Talking Catfish
or Striped Raphael. This particular catfish is readily
available from most good aquatic retailers, and is
perhaps the most commonly seen representative of this
family of catfish. Like most of the doradids it prefers
to be kept in a small group, although there may be
the odd squabble over territory. The natural habitat
for this catfish is the river system of South America
from Peru to Brazil. Platydoras armatulus
(previously known as Platydoras
costatus) can attain a
length of 200mm or 8". I have found that when
kept in small groups these catfish will soon rid an
aquarium of an aquatic snail problem. Single specimens
will relish snails but will be unable to rid an aquarium
of snails single-handed! Price guide £4-£10
depending upon size.
more commonly known as the Raphael Catfish. This catfish
is not commonly available but to the trained eye the
odd specimen can be picked out amongst imports of
Platydoras costatus, which has been the way
in which I have gradually obtained a group of them.
Orinocodoras eigenmanni has a more pointed
snout and its scutes tend to be smaller than those
of Platydoras armulatus (previously known as
P.costatus). There are other differences as well
such as the length of the adipose fin and the shape
of the caudal fin, which when viewed side by side
is quite apparent. Like most of the doradids these
catfish also like to be kept in small groups, which
can be difficult when only the odd one or two specimens
are available. Fortunately these doradids are quite
happy to shoal with Platydoras armulatus. The
natural habitat for these catfish is the Orinoco River
system in Venezuela hence its name Orinocodoras.
This catfish can attain a length of 175mm or 7".
Like the other doradids this catfish also relishes
aquatic snails as part of its mixed and varied diet.
Price guide £5-£15 depending upon size
and if the retailer is aware that this fish is amongst
is commonly known as the Spotted Talking Catfish,
White-spotted Doradid and Spotted Raphael. This particular
catfish is also quite often available at most good
aquatic retailers. The colour pattern tends to differ
slightly from individual to individual, but is quite
eye catching being jet-black body colour with white
to creamy coloured blotches along the body and fins.
Again this catfish prefers its own company so the
aquarist should ideally keep them in small groups
of between 4 and 6 specimens. The natural habitat
for these catfish is throughout the river systems
of South America notably in Peru and Pebas. This particular
species can attain a length of 140mm or 5½".
These catfish thrive on a mixed and varied diet including
aquatic snails. Price guide £4-£10 depending
upon size and availability.
Platydoras hancockii) is commonly known as Hancock's
Catfish or Talking Cat. There is also reference made
to this catfish under the name of Amblydoras affinis
just to add to the confusion. This catfish is occasionally
seen at some retailers and is quite often imported
at no more than 50mm or 2" in length. This species
can attain a length of 100mm or 4". Again another
catfish that fares better in small groups therefore
I would recommend keeping between 4 and 6 specimens
together. The natural habitat for these catfish is
widespread throughout the rivers of South America
from Guyana to Brazil. This particular species prefers
water that is neutral and soft with dense vegetation
for it to hide amongst. Again these catfish thrive
on a mixed and varied diet that includes aquatic snails.
Price guide £5-£10 depending upon availability.
is commonly known as the Dusky Doradid. This catfish
is not very often available for sale to the hobbyist.
The odd one or two sometimes appear amongst shipments
of Amblydoras hancocki, which as juvenile fish
share a similar colour pattern. Whilst collecting
fish in Peru I was able to collect large numbers of
what initially appeared to be Amblydoras hancocki,
but which later turned out to be Anadoras grypus.
The specimens collected were approximately 25mm or
1" in length. This particular species can attain
a length of 150mm or 6". Another peaceful doradid
that prefers to be kept in groups of at least 6 specimens.
The natural habitat for these catfish is South America,
widespread throughout the Amazon Basin. As with Amblydoras
hancocki these catfish prefer neutral and soft
water conditions with plenty of plant cover. They
will thrive on a mixed and varied diet including aquatic
snails and bloodworm. Price guide £8-£20
depending upon availability.
punctata is commonly
known as the Feather Barbels Catfish. This is another
species that is not readily available to the hobbyist,
but is a very peaceful addition to a community aquarium.
This species can attain a length of 115mm or 4¾".
Another doradid that prefers safety in numbers assuming
that you can purchase them. I would recommend that
you keep at least 4 specimens together. The natural
habitat for these catfish is the rivers of Peru and
Ecuador. Good water quality is required by these fascinating
catfish, as is a diet that includes finely shredded
shrimp and bloodworm. Price guide £ 8-£15
depending upon size and availability. (Editors note:
Was known until recently (2011) as Doras punctatus
until a new paper by Birindelli, JLO and MH Sabaj
Pérez (2011) asigned a new genera, Ossancora
to this species)
is commonly known as the Painted Talking Catfish and
is also sometimes referred to as the Milky Cat. This
catfish is occasionally available to the hobbyist.
It can attain a length of 150mm or 6". I have
kept these catfish in small groups of 4 specimens
when numbers have been available to purchase, otherwise
I have kept them with the other species of doradid
already mentioned. The natural habitat for these catfish
is South America throughout the Amazon River estuary.
This species fares well on a mixed and varied diet.
Price guide £8-£15 depending upon availability.
There are a number of other
species of doradid available to the hobbyist in small
numbers, which is why I have concentrated this article
on those species mentioned above. I hope that this
will give you an insight into this fascinating group
of catfish and that some of you reading this article
will take up the challenge of keeping them.
This article also appeared in
the U.K. fishkeeping magazine