t was love at first sight!. I saw
this fish for the first time in the summer of 1972. I
had admired it before in the black and white photos in
Dieter Vogts small book about catfishes and also in the
Sterba book. It was in front of me now in a garden centre
in a bare 100 litre tank. It was being kept together with
about 50 goldfishes . The incompetent assistant from the
fresh flower department was quite enthusiastic that I
wanted to buy the non-seller. “You can have this
one for 5 DM. in another tank he has already eaten up
all the neon fish" she said. We got out fast with
The catfish came into a 40 litre
aquarium at our home. What had I bought actually there?
Yes, it was obviously, for certain a predator catfish.
In the literature mentioned before, I found the suitable
description, too: Clarias batrachus from the
family of the gill bag catfishes, also called walking
catfish in Germany. Being from Africa and Asia natively
this family owes its name to an additional air breathing
organ, the gill bag. One can approximately quite roughly
compare the breathing of the animals with the Labyrinther/Anabantoidei.
The catfishes can similarly live also in waters with very
little oxygen content, so the fish do not seldom go ashore
in nature at night and walk into food rich biotopes. In
their natural habitat they eat anything they can cope
The introduction of C. batrachus is forbidden
strictly in the USA. Released or escaped gill bag catfishes
have increased into the Everglades of Florida on a massive
scale and provide a dying out of many local species. Snails,
worms, frogs and other amphibians are not safe from them
either, so I had a little monster sitting in my aquarium
now. The tank had a cave construction and a possibility
for the animal to hide.
At first the Clarias was
rather shy, but the gluttony came through soon at which
time, we offered Tubifex lumps, earthworms, flour worms
and tadpoles which it could not resist. The fish grew
and grew and the tanks got bigger and bigger with time.
The Clarias got more and more trusting and snatched
beef hearts soon from my fingers. After two years he was
35 cm long and only a little bit broader.
Due to its proportionally small size and special colouring
I found the right name in the more versatile and technical
literature which was now available. It was Clarias
angolensis from Africa and the length of 35 cm was
definitely correct. The up to 45 cm great batrachus
comes from Sri Lanka, Eastern India as well as Malaysia.
This is brought over mostly as an albino or female piebald
in the trade. The colour dress of angolensis
is grey, brownish to anthracite. White small points go
diagonal through the lateral line. Albinos are seldom
offered and the wild colour is mostly seen on the market.
The care of the two species is approximately
the same: Tank for fully-grown catfishes 200 litres for
individual keeping, and for socialisation at least 400
litres. Best you take dark soil, stable plants and at
least a big cave. The aquarium must still be protected
well, weigh the lid down (walking catfish!!). The oxygen
is not a strong filtration so this is not too important.
Gill bag catfishes are also diurnal, they accumulate,
however, to the top of the water at night. The substrate
is searched continuously for food and is ploughed constantly.
Room temperature, 15-30 ° without problems. These
catfishes are not interested in water values at all. When
keeping them one should take their gluttony into account.
Food tablets green and brown, great flakes, pellets of
trout, beef heart, food fish to 10 cm and mussel meat
is taken away from you by fully-grown specimens
with great pleasure.
About 1977 the C. angolensis was in top form.
A Clarias batrachus albino was offered to me
at a show in South Germany. At the price of 40 DM I could
not stand (again I may well been cheated at that time
in 1977 with this price!!!) The fish definitely had to
come along with me!. The catfish at that time lived alone
in a 350 litres tank and I then moved the albino into
the tank alongside the angolensis. This was already
a splendid sight: angolensis/grey/anthracite
and batrachus a little ghostly, albino white
with red eyes. The size of the animals was 35 and 45 cm.
the batrachus still surpassed its colleague in
gluttony. The animal was so avaricious in its assumption
that it even bit itself into the tail fin and this tore
to pieces while it was busy with its spoils.
In the long run this did not turn out all right as the
C. angolensis was found one morning with its
whole body wounded in a corner of its aquarium with almost
all of its fins torn. I wanted to give it a mercy killing
but however I did not have it in my heart. The fish was
put in another tank and carefully watched and cared for,
and after a couple of days the angolensis had
recovered a little again and it was getting better, the
fins grew again and after some weeks it got back to its
old self again. The albino was then picked up by a catfish
freak from the Ruhr district after an advertisement at
In the course of the years I had my house catfish also
socialising with other fish. It did not give any problems
with great South American Cichlids like Cichlasoma,
Malawi cichlids, 25 cm kissing Gouramis (Helostoma
temminkii) or 20 cm Rutilius rutilius. I
could state some unusual features during the years of
keeping: If he had overeaten, the animal "was"
sick and then did not eat for many days after. Three times
in the year the fish changed his colour twice. The monochrome
grey then turned into a white/cloudy colour drawing over
the whole body for 1-2 days (spawn colouring?), then over
months it became monochrome again. One should use smooth
vessels like 10 litre buckets or very big plastic bin
bags when catching these catfishes. In all nets the candidates
jam themselves with their very strong pectoral fins, the
specimen will then beat very strongly and wildly around
itself. Once you catch the fish out of water then you
get a quite beautiful shower. The catfish then gives clattering
noises, similar as thorn catfishes in the net. When I
had not weighed down the glass lid once correctly, little
“Clare” went ashore at night!. I found it
under a cupboard the next day half dried up, he looked
mummified, but he was normal again within the next few
days after being reintroduced back to its aquarium. Something
like that could similarly happen in nature perhaps once,
More than 18 years the catfish was my/our domestic animal.
Caused by a professional, short-term change of address
to Hanover I could not accommodate all my aquaria in the
new smaller flat. I reluctantly submitted the animal to
a friendly catfish enthusiast. After a year the fish died
at my friends for unknown reasons in its tank. The blow
perhaps had hit him. I have kept in the following years
other catfishes, also bigger species. But I did not have
as much joy as I had with my Clarias angolensis,
not with any fish...
Perhaps you have come onto the taste a little, now one
also can keep "sturdy boys" quite good. However,
one should be conscious: This care then must go on for
years, therefore not for for "flash in the pan natures".
I have by the way seen a whitely/blackly spotted kind
of Clarias at my last visit in a book in America
2000. Meanwhile you can buy this specimen quite often.
Perhaps some time I will fall back to C. batrachus
or C. angolensis.
Many thanks for your attention.
Reinhold Wawrzynski: http://wawrzynski.de.tt
All images by Author.
Published in "Das