Your internet guide to
all things catfish


Helogenes marmoratus  Günther, 1863   

his month (April 2015) we are concentrating on a little known family, in the aquarium trade anyway, and that is the Cetopsidae. When you think of this family you think right away of the candiru and other parasite catfish which can be nasty but H. marmorates is very different to this behaviour and is recomended in groups in an aquarium.



Helogenes marmoratus


A little bit of history on this species and three others in the Helogenes genera, H. castaneus (from the Rio Meta basin, Colombia) H. gouldingi, (from the Rio Madeira basin, Brazil) and H. uruyensis from southern Venezuela. They were all in the previously named Helogenidae family but were incorporated into the Cetopsidae family in 1995 and consequently in the sub-family Helogeninae. H. marmoratus although scarce in the hobby seems to be the only one out of the four species that is sometimes exported from the trade.


When Günther described H. marmoratus in 1863 he placed it in the Hypophthalmidae and it was not until 45 years later that Eigenmann on its second collection that he removed Helegenes from Hypophthalmidae and described a new family for it, the Helogeneidae. The species remained monotypic for a further nearly 80 years until Delsman described a second species, H. amazonae based on a single species caught in the vicinity of Manaus, Brazil, this turned out later to be a synonym of H. marmoratus. Another species was named by Dahl in 1960 and naming it Leyvaichthys castaneus. This later was renamed Helegens castaneus and the main discription was the lack of an adipose fin, hence the new genus name. This variability within the Helogenidae concerning the adipose fin which ranged from the Peruvian populations from relatively small, through very small, to being totally absent and this absence of the fin had been used to distinguish, wholly or in part, the genus Leyvaichthys from Helegenes.

The possession of nine principal fin rays in the lower lobe of the caudal fin of Helogenes marmoratus distinguishes it from H. gouldingi and H. castaneus, which have eight principal rays on the lower lobe of that fin. The 39-48 anal-fin rays of H. marmoratus separates that species from H. uruyensis, which has 32-37 anal-fin rays.


Helogenes marmoratus = hiding in vegetation


H. marmoratus is a typical inhabitant of black or clear waters, and is usually found in forest streams with a moderate to swift current flow over firm sand or gravel bottoms. Lives hidden under plants, litter or plant debris. Can easily be mistaken as a piece of dead wood when it rests on its side, and lies motionless on the bottom. Often swims on one side in undulating movements.


This is a catfish that likes the upper levels of the aquarium. It likes to hide in plants/vegetation at the surface so either floating plants or long strands of Valisineria plants would work better as they will be unhappy in a bare unplanted tank. This trait can be seen in the upper image.



Nine principal fin rays in the lower lobe of the caudal fin. 39-48 anal-fin rays. Dorsal fin small and set well back, anal fin long. Adipose fin is is very small sometimes lacking, dorsal and pectoral fins without spines. Eyes are small, directed upward and outward. The maxillary barbels fit into a groove below the eye.

Head and body reddish brown with a marbled pattern which is variable. Dorsal, pectorals, ventrals, anal and adipose fins are the same colour as the body but all have lighter margins. Caudal fin light brown with darker mottling.

Aquarium Care
A nocturnal species that needs plant cover to rest in during daylight hours. Does not like too much of a water movement in the aquarium.


Can be kept with a vast variety of peaceful fish as long as they are not too small, but would be better to keep at least six specimens of this small species in a tank of their own.

Sexual dimorphism
Not recorded.

Not recorded.


In its natural habitat it feeds mainly on terrestrial insects, particularly ants. In the aquarium it will eat most aquarium prepared foods, small live foods, insect larvae and small worms. Feed prior to turning of the tank lights if housed with other species.


Helogenes: Helos = marsh; genus = born.
marmoratus: Marbled; mottled.

Glossary of Terms

Dorsal: The primary rayed fin(s) on top of the body

Caudal fin: The tail.

Anal fin: The median, unpaired, ventrally located fin that lies behind the anus, usually on the posterior half of the fish.
Pectoral fin:
The paired fins just behind the head.

Ventral Fin: The paired fins, between the pectorals and the anal fins.
Adipose fin: Fleshy finlike projection without rays, behind the rayed dorsal fin.
Maxillary barbels: Pertaining to the upper jaw. (maxillary barbels)

Baensch, H.A. and R. Riehl 1991 Aquarien atlas. Bd. 3. Melle: Mergus, Verlag für Natur- und Heimtierkunde, Germany. 1104 p.
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2014.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, ( 11/2014
Ferraris, C.J. Jr., 2007. Checklist of catfishes, recent and fossil (Osteichthyes: Siluriformes), and catalogue of siluriform primary types. Zootaxa 1418:1-628.
Vari, R.P. and H. Ortega, 1986. The catfishes of the neotropical Family Helogenidae (Ostariophysi: Siluroidei). Smith. Contrib. Zool. (442):20 p.
Le Bail, P.-Y., P. Keith and P. Planquette, 2000. Atlas des poissons d'eau douce de Guyane. Tome 2, Fascicule II: Siluriformes. Collection Patrimoines Naturels 43(II): 307p. Paris: Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle.

Photo Credits
Top:  © Yann Fulliquet
Bott: © Billy Grant
Factsheet 226

Helogenes amazonae, Helogenes unidorsalis
Common Name:
Dwarf Wood Cat
South America: Atlantic drainages of Guianas, upper Orinoco and Negro systems and upper Amazon River basin. Madre de Dios region, Peru. Type locality: Essequibo River, Guiana.
7.5cm. (3ins)
22-26°c (71-79°f ) 
If you found this page helpful you can help keep ScotCat running by making a small donation, Thanks. 

Donate towards my web hosting bill!


Print Friendly and PDF































































                                                                                                                                  Factsheet 226 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top