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Collecting Cats 

Dr David Sands  
Dr David Sands discusses the positives and pitfalls of keeping cats and provides the essential background to some catfish types for the aquarist who is about to explore above and beyond their first community aquarium.


nce your initial apprenticeship of fishkeeping has been served, curiosity naturally encourages a fully fledged aquarist to explore the world of the mysterious and unusual. It's not that there's anything wrong with shoals of guppies and tetras, colourfully interspersed with gouramies. It's that the time comes when everyone wants to keep those fishes experienced aquarists seem to home in on every time they visit the aquatic store.


Catfishes are popular for a number of reasons; they hide, partly because they are nocturnal and partly because they are mysterious. Even though the novice aquarist has enjoyed keeping the common species, such as the peppered and bristle nosed catfishes, these do pale into insignificance when compared to real exotics. How about a scribbled plec' that is priced at more than the aquarium! The primary targets for serious aquarists has always been cichlids and catfishes. Despite being armed with the latest books they can be still be difficult to identify and quantify even into something simple such as community friend or foe. There are literally hundreds of catfishes and cichlids and many species have vastly different juvenile and adult colourations. Little is really known about their life histories in nature and much of the aquarium care is based on educated guesswork.


The classification of many unidentified loricariids (suckermouths) for example, now so numerous that they are referred to under Log numbers' for discerning aquarists, is a minefield for this and other reasons. With so many expensively priced suckermouth species available, varying in size from a few centimetres to a metre, it can be extemely costly if the wrong catfish is purchased on an impulse. The larger stores also display artificial hybrid species that may appear familiar but may combine giant species with more modest sized forms.


In the first part of this series it is intended to discuss the positives and pitfalls of purchasing weird and wonderful catfishes with a build up guide of pointers to enable aquarists to make a more considered selection. It's not just about suckermouths, even purchasing rarer forms Corydoras can set an expensive challenge for the fishkeeper who wishes to move into the second gear' of aquarium communities. Corydoras barbatus, for example, can be extremely difficult to maintain in an established community system that has become overcrowded, is probably too acidic and contains a stagnating substrate. These catfishes are usually imported after being held for some time at South American export centres following capture and they often arrive hollow bellied. If they are not provided with the right water conditions and diet they rapidly succumb to infections. The terrible net result' of husbandry mistakes can be an expensive and sad loss of one of the most beautiful catfish species available in the hobby. With the right aquarium maintenance ie 50% partial water change, combined with an aquascape that includes a shallow sand substrate and open substrate spaces these superb catfishes may adapt to captivity. In addition, a diet of finely shredded shrimp and flaked food should ensure the bearded catfishes survive the trauma of their incredible journey from the coastal streams of Rio de Janeiro to the aquarium in your living room. The following catfish data sheets provided include tip and a unique positives and pitfalls' summary. Collect them all to build up an information library on the rare and the unusual species that are for sale in the specialist aquatic stores.

Catfish data sheet 1
:
Corydoras barbatus Image (Rio form) (Now Scleromystax barbatus ) the Bearded Catfish, Southern Brazil. Habitat: flowing coastal creeks on a sand and pebble substrate. Maximum total length: 100 mm (4 in)
Natural diet: Insect larvae, aquatic worms, small invertebrates and crustaceans. When spawning, Corydoras barbatus place their eggs high at the water surface on the aquarium glass in batches of five and seven at one time. Males are slender when viewed from above and are more distinctive in colour than females. In breeding condition, the males display fine cheek bristles.
Maintenance care: pH 6.7 - 7.3, hardness: fairly soft, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, a diet of finely shredded unshelled' shrimp and flake.
One of the largest Corydoras species known, the bearded catfish is found in at least two forms, a white snouted type from Rio de Janeiro and a gold striped type from Sao Paulo. The two types will certainly be described as different species in the future because science has already discovered that both forms have distinct genetic identities. The male of this handsome southern Brazilian species is one of a few long snouted species within the genus that develop cheek bristles during the breeding season and sometimes beyond. Males are aggressively territorial (not always acknowledged in aquarium literature) especially during the spawning period. These catfishes will thrive in a fairly wide range of water conditions providing the pH is not too acidic and the substrate is clean and made up of shallow sand and pebbles. Once established they prove relatively easy to spawn in the healthy aquarium.
Positives: super colour, relatively large peaceful' Corydoras, can be bred under aquarium conditions. Active during some daylight hours.
Pitfalls: Starved on export, can arrive on the retail front extremely emaciated, hard to settle in an established aquarium community. Expensive to buy.

Catfish data sheet 2
: Liosomadorus oncinus, Image the Jaguar Catfish, Brazil.
Habitat: Small tributary rivers and streams. Maximum total length: 150 mm (6 in)
Natural diet: crustaceans, small fishes and assorted invertebrates.
The captive breeding of the Jaguar catfish has not yet been achieved in aquaria although the spawning method, through internal fertilisation, is thought to be the same as that known in other Driftwood catfishes. Adult males are believed to be more ornately patterned and are probably smaller and more slender than adult females.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5, hardness: soft to medium, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, bogwood, branches, a diet of unshelled' shrimp, small earthworms food sticks, granules and flake. The aquarium maintenance for this species hugely depends on providing it with good water quality in a larger than average system. As nocturnal predators, these catfishes should only be maintained with community fishes of equal or greater size. As one of the most beautiful of all South American catfishes, the Jaguar catfish can be recognised by its striking yellow blotches and dark lines on a brown and white body. The jaguar catfish is unique in that it shares distinctive characteristics of two very different families.
It is scaleless, in keeping with all of the auchenipterids, and yet it possesses a gill spine and a long-based adipose fin, which are distinctive traits of the doradids, or Thorny Catfishes. The Jaguar Catfish can be found in many colour pattern varieties, some forms are thought to represent another species. It has proved fairly easy to maintain because it will accept a broad range of good water conditions and a wide variety of foods.
Positives: Superb juvenile colour pattern, Large adults reasonably peaceful when maintained in spacious, uncrowded, aquarium conditions.
Pitfalls: Adults are predatory towards small fishes and are therefore unsuited to small fish aquarium communities. Extremely nocturnal and totally inactive during daylight hours.


Catfish data sheet 3: Sorubim lima, Image Shovel-nosed Catfish, Widespread in South America.
Habitat: large flowing rivers, Maximum total Length: 450 mm (18 in)
Natural diet: Small fishes, crustaceans and anything small enough to be eaten!.
Unknown breeding habits and there are no recorded sexual differences.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5,
hardness: soft to medium, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, bog wood, branches, a diet of unshelled' shrimp, earthworms, small strips of fish and food sticks. Predatory towards smaller fishes, but suitable for larger catfish/cichlid/barb/ characin fish communitities. The common Shovel-nosed catfish is one of the few predatory species that will easily to adapt to prepared foods. Healthy specimens will consume shrimp, fish pieces and earthworms if they are offered early and on a regular basis. Sorubim lima will thrive in a broad range of pH and hardness conditions, demanding only bright well-filtered water. They appear to be one of the few larger pimelodids that can be maintained together in small groups, especially if introduced as juveniles. Water quality needs to be high with dissolved oxygen levels especially important. Frequently made large scale partial water changes will ensure the growth and development of this species in captivity.
Positives: Smallest of the shovel nosed catfishes', Large adults reasonably peaceful when maintained alongside other large fishes. Active during daylight hours.
Pitfalls: Adults require large, well oxygenated, aquaria and are predatory towards small fishes.


Catfish data sheet 4
: Platydoras costatus Image ( Now Platydoras armatulus ) the Humbug or Talking Catfish, from Brazil to Peru.
Habitat: small tributary rivers and streams. Maximum total length: 200 mm (8 in)
Natural diet: Snails, insect larvae, etc.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5,
Hardness: soft to hard, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, a diet of shredded unshelled' shrimp, food sticks, granules and flake. Success for the Humbug catfish in captivity is dependant on providing plenty of caves and wood. They can be extremely territorial towards their own kind are likely to dispute ownership of caves, nooks and crannies with other nocturnal catfish. However, the humbug catfish is not over aggressive and will do little more than outspread its pectoral and dorsal fin spines in defence. This action is only dangerous when directed at scaleless fishes disputing territory. This black Talking Catfish' has a "humbug" white stripe across its lateral line and this striking pattern makes it popular among fishkeepers seeking an oddity for the community aquarium.
The talking title is given to members of this family of catfishes because they are able to create sounds by grating fin bones in each socket and amplify the noise via the swim bladder to give potential predators a fright. In keeping with most catfish species, Platydoras costatus is extremely nocturnal and in captivity will predate on small fishes during the hours of darkness.
Positives: Inexpensive to buy, attractive colour pattern, Adults are reasonably peaceful when maintained alongside medium sized community fishes .
Pitfalls: Adults are predatory towards very small fishes and are therefore unsuited to small fish aquarium communities. Territorial and extremely nocturnal.


Catfish data sheet 5
: Mystus tengara Image the False Pyjama Catfish, Asia.
Habitat: small tributary creeks and flowing rivers.
Maximum total length: 125-150 mm (4-5 in)
Natural diet: Invertebrate larvae, crustaceans foods in nature.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5, hardness: soft to hard, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, bog wood, branches, a diet of unshelled' shrimp, small earthworms, granules and flake. Known breeding information confirms that they are egg scatterers. Males are smaller and more slender than females. Whilst this species is thought to be the most familiar of Asian catfishes its exact identity has been confused with Mystus vittatus over the years. The true Pyjama catfish was spawned in the aquarium. Dr Franke recorded that several thousand eggs were produced in the one spawning and that a high percentage hatched after several days. This spawning information would appear to be true for most Mystus species.
Positives: Inexpensive to buy, Adults are reasonably peaceful when maintained alongside medium sized community fishes . Some activity shown during daylight hours.
Pitfalls: Adults are predatory towards very small fishes and are therefore unsuited to small fish aquarium communities.

Catfish data sheet 6
:
Synodontis eupterus, Image the Feather Fin Catfish, Africa, Niger River system.
Habitat: Large rivers. Max total length: 150-200 mm (6-8 in)
Natural diet: Invertebrates, small fishes and crustaceans. Breeding: Adult males are smaller than females.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5, hardness: soft to hard, aquascape: a sand and pebble substrate, bog wood, branches, a diet of unshelled' shrimp, small chopped earthworms food sticks, granules and flake. The Feather Fin Catfish, now commercially farm bred with the use of hormone inducement, when juvenile is very similar in appearance to Synodontis nigrita. The latter species lacks the distinctive dorsal fin extensions, although juvenile Synodontis euptera do not display them either. Young specimens can be distinguished by the presence of a high, long-based, adipose fin. A peaceful species ideally suited to most medium-sized to large robust community fish systems where it will take up the role as a true scavenger' of food other fishes have missed.
Positives: Adults display a fantastic dorsal fin and inexpensive juveniles show an attractive colouration of spots, Large adults are reasonably peaceful when maintained in spacious, uncrowded, aquarium conditions. Active during daylight hours.
Pitfalls: Adults can be boisterous towards small fishes and are therefore unsuited to small fish aquarium communities.

Catfish data sheet 7:
Pseudoacanthicus species, Image the Spiny catfishes, Brazil.
Habitat: Large tributary rivers and streams. Maximum total length: 600 mm (24 in)
Natural diet: thought to be green debris, small crustaceans, small fishes and assorted invertebrates.
Maintenance care: pH 6.5 - 7.5, hardness: soft to medium, aquascape: a spacious sand substrate, bog wood, branches, a diet of unshelled' shrimp, green diet, food sticks, granules and flake. The aquarium maintenance for these species also depends on providing them with pristine water quality (clean and high in dissolved oxygen) in a larger than average system. The spiny catfishes (members of the genera Acanthicus and Pseudoacanthicus) are large suckermouth species that have a more varied diet than many of the commonly known family forms such as Ancistrus and Hypostomus. They can quickly become emaciated in crowded aquarium communities and need copious amount of food to survive captivity.
Positives: Rare species, some with extremely attractive colour patterns, Large adults are fairly peaceful when maintained in spacious, uncrowded, aquarium conditions. Partially active during daylight hours.
Pitfalls: Expensive, adults are aggressively territorial towards other suckermouth catfishes and are therefore unsuited to some aquarium communities.


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                                                                                                                                                               Article updated = February 22, 2016
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