not had the fortune, or should that be misfortune,
to acquire this facial challenged catfish from the
Chacidae family, but its reputation goes before it
and is usually purchased for its 'oddity' role in
the catfish hobby.
I suppose you
would have to call this catfish 'ugly' even although
it is against my catfish loving nature :-) to do so,
but the cats from the Chaca genus have a face
that only their mother would love.
Now I mention
the Chaca genus as there are now three in the
family whereas not so long ago it was believed that
this family was monotypic (one member). There are
now, alongside this months factsheet, Chaca bankanensis,
Bleeker, 1852 and the latest Chaca burmensis,
Brown & Ferraris, 1988. Chaca chaca is
found in Bangladesh, India in the Brahmaputra and
Ganges river systems, and Nepal. C.bankanensis
locality is Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and the
species name of C.burmensis gives its location
away as Myanmar (Burma).
of the Family Chacidae
differentiate between the three species is not that
easy as they look very similar in photo's. Chaca
bankenensis seems to be a little bit darker in
colouration than Chaca chaca and has
one less pectoral ray, 1/4 to 1/5 of C.
chaca. You can differentiate the difference between
Chaca burmensis and Chaca chaca by
the number and the size of the cirri along the
inner edge of the lower lip, C. chaca has
14+ and tend to be relatively longer and/or thicker.
Chaca burmensis usually numbers around 10
or 11 small cirri, and they don’t tend to
have them near the corners of the mouth. There seems
to be two forms of this species, Archipelagic and
This is taken
from a recent (October 2006) article by Steven Grant
on the differences. "Roberts visually differentiated
C. chaca from C. bankanensis by
the fact that C. chaca has 5 soft pectoral
fin rays, versus 4. This can quite easily be seen
if you look at the fish from above (see images), even
without counting the rays you can see the different
shape and relative size of the fin. Unfortunately
burmensis can also sometimes have 4 rays,
so the number of rays themselves are not indicative.
The first indicator to use then, is to look for the
tiny barbel on the rim of the posterior nostril. C.
chaca and burmensis do not have this,
but unfortunately some Peninsular Form bankanensis
don’t either, so if the fish has no posterior
barbel, also then look at the shape of the pectoral
fin when viewed from above. If it has a posterior
nostril barbel, or the shape of the fin is that in
the image above, you have a bankanensis.
There are some other minor visual differences that
are sometimes quoted, but I find it more reliable
to use the ones I have given".
chaca from burmensis using the naked
eye is not as easy. Most of the differences listed
in Brown & Ferraris use information inaccessible
for aquarists using live fish. The number and extent
of cirri is very variable in chaca, so although burmensis
appear generally to have less, some chaca
do also. C. burmensis tend to have a blacker
base colour, but again this can be seen in chaca
also. Brown & Ferraris state that “On the
head, flattened flaps of skin, usually branched at
the tip, occur laterally in the region of the cheek
and opercle. None is found along the dorsal surface
of the head or immediately posterior to the eye, as
in C. chaca”. However, in some C.
chaca, there aren’t any flattened flaps
of skin on the head, or associated with the eye either
(although there are cirri, but there are also some
cirri in burmensis). The easiest way I have
found to differentiate them using live specimens,
is to look at the number and relative size of the
cirri along the inner edge of the lower lip. In the
C. burmensis I have seen, they usually number
around 10 or 11 small cirri, and they don’t
tend to have them near the corners of the mouth. In
the C. chaca that I have seen, they tend
to number at 14+ and tend to be relatively longer
chaca- showing the large mouth and the hooklets
on the bottom jaw
aquarist Klaus Dreymann has monitored Chaca chaca
for what he believes is, that this catfish is able
to secrete certain substances that lower the pH level
in its tank and in doing so can sometimes poison other
inhabitants of the aquarium with a drop from 7.0 to
5.5 in a matter of a week. I would surmise that in
excreting the waste products away from the kidneys
and into the water that it must be of a very high
acid content considering its diet, and thus lowering
the p.H in a very confined area. Of course this would
not happen in its native habitat in the large rivers
of India, where millions of gallons are flowing by
instead of the paltry handful that we let them exist
It is also said
that they have a very pungent dorsal fin spine leading
to a very sore hand if impaled on it, which is common
to a fair amount of the order Siluriformes.
On summing up
this months factsheet you would be better acquiring
this catfish if you knew that you could feed it properly,
starting of with live food such as Cichlid fry (see
Compatibility section) and maybe Guppies (worth a
try) until hopefully you can wean them on to more
friendly foods such as large earthworms other worm
foods and beefheart, as I am prone to a bit of guilt
when feeding fish to other fish. :-(
Since I have
finished writing this factsheet I know fancy having
a go at this unusual animal myself, as I have "wetted"
my own appetite, as I hope I have yours too.
Steven Grant & Klaus Dreymann.
Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaya and Indonesia. Reported
1/3-4; Anal 7-10; Pectoral 1/5; Ventral 6. Body tadpole
like, anteriorly and strongly depressed, posteriorly
strongly compressed, without lateral scutes but covered
with a thick horny skin. Mouth very broad. Dorsal
fin small. The rounded caudal fin extends far forwards
on both dorsal and ventral surfaces. 1 pair of very
short, often merely peg-like, barbels at the corners
of the mouth. Older specimens have small, arborescent
appendages at the corners of the mouth.
Black-Brown with numerous
black and pale spots and blotches, the head somewhat
paler and the belly white with closely-approximated
dark blotches. Fins dark brown with black blotches
and whitish to fawn edges.
Care & Compatibility
This catfish does not do a
lot apart from sitting very still buried in the substrate
waiting for its next meal and then engulfing its prey
by opening its very large mouth and basically creates
a strong vacuum, whereas the unlucky victim is drawn
in to the gaping hole!. It is a very hardy aquarium
fish that will do very well on a sand/leaf substrate
where it can bury itself with just its head showing
and also a landscape of rocks and caves. It is not
your average community tank fish so I would choose
my tankmates carefully for fear of them getting eaten
as they will consume fish half their size. Probably
any species of the African Synodontis would
do fine and for the upper layers you would do better
with larger shoaling fish such as Congo tetras, or
larger barbs i.e. Tinfoil Barbs. This would pre-empt
a larger tank to house the larger barbs or characins.
If you can make the space, a better idea would be
a species tank with 3 to 4 individuals, as they seem
to coincide peacefully with one another with a feeding
of earthworms and other meaty foods such as feeder
fish like young Tilapia sp. They are said
also to take tablet food when fully acclimatized.
There is a substantiated
report in the Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine of March
1992 by Sharad R. Sane and Leena R. Bhide on the successful
spawning of Chaca chaca. Three males and
one female were set up in a bare bottomed tank 36"
x 18" x 18" with an 8" asbestos pipe
with a 3" diameter. This tank also contained
Danio's, Rasboras and four Perch, Nandus nebulosus.
One morning in
April 1989 they noticed that one of the four Chaca's
was in the pipe. The next morning all of the Nandus
had bulging bellies even although they had not recently
been fed. They found fry still in the pipe with the
male guarding them and as they emerged from the pipe
the Nandus were eating them. The rest of the
fish were removed from the tank including the other
three Chaca and a total of 78 fry were raised
from that spawning.
The other three
Chaca were settled in another tank of their
own with the same setup, and they also spawned with
one of the males guarding the eggs. They hatched between
3 and 4 days and the fry started feeding after losing
their yolk sac after 7 days, with an incredible raising
of 392 young up to 1½ ins.
In their native habitat they
feed on other fish such as Betta's and various Cyprinids.
In the aquarium, will feed also on live food such
as other smaller fishes and fry. Will take worm foods
such as large earthworms, chopped beaf heart, shrimp
and can be weaned on to tablet food. The main criteria
is to give them a varied diet with live food being
From the vernucucular name 'Chaca'
no. 90, www.scotcat.com, The
Sterba, Gunther; Sterba's Freshwater Fishes of
the World 1. Baench; Aquarium Atlas 3.
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2002. FishBase.
World Wide Web electronic publication.
Talwar, P.K. and A.G. Jhingran, 1992. Inland fishes
of India and adjacent countries. Volume 2.. A.A. Balkema,
Rotterdam. WelsHomePageChaca chaca (or
the growling monster). Tropical Fish Hobbyist; March 1992, The successful
Spawning of Chaca chaca, p196-199. Grant, Steven. The