with most of this family
this is certainly a catfish
for the experienced catfish keeper as it is like no
other, and when adult the electric organ is capable
of generating 300-400 volts, enough to stun a full
grown adult of Homo sapian!. When they are
bought, usually as small juveniles, their electrical
output is more of a tingle.
It uses its electrical charge for catching prey and
defense. It has a negative charge at the head and
positive at the tail and consists of greatly modified
body muscle fibres. This appears as a thin jelly like
sleeve directly under the skin. It has been noted
that the species that resides in Lake Tanganyika (M.
tanganyikaensis) do not have as large a potential
electrical current probably due to the more alkaline
conditions that exist there.
In the not too
distant past there used to be only three species in
this genus, M.
electricus from the
Zaire system to west Africa and the Nile, M. microstoma
from the Congo basin and M. minjiriya from
Lake Kainji, Nigeria. After the work carried out by
Steven Norris in 2002 there are now 16 species classified.
You can notice
the differences in the pattern on the caudal and caudal
peduncle of M. electricus and M. microstoma
but the biggest discrepancy is the shape of the snout
as can be seen in the images depicted. Sharp
snout: M. microstoma, Rounded
or blunt snout: M. electricus.
The common name of Dwarf Electric
Catfish for M. microstoma is I feel a misdemeanor
as this species can still grow to an impressive 60cm
Along with the
"Electric Catfish's" there are only another
two species that have the capability of electric shock,
The "Electric Eel", Electrophorus electricus
and the "Electric Ray", Torpedo marmorata.
- showing the sharp snout
- showing the rounded snout and different caudal and
The above image
shows an unusual catch, a wild caught albino captured
by fish importer Thomas Kobe in the Congo.
note about removing your "Electric Cat"
from the aquarium for any reason. Do not startle it,
if you do not feed for a couple of days before and
then just move your cat around the tank with a gentle
push from a plastic handled fish net, it will then
discharge itself with a large charge then a few smaller
ones. You can then gently lift it out of the tank
with the help of heavy weight rubber gloves for added
protection, but sometimes they will be passive anyway,
but why take the risk!.
Congo basin, mainstream and large tributaries.
Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays:
10 - 13; Vertebrae: 40 - 42. Diagnosis: tooth patches
narrow; horizontally based pectoral fins, placed low
on the body; snout sharply narrowed rostrally; 40-42
vertebrae; 7-29 gill-rakers; 11-12 anal-fin rays;
caudal saddle and bar pattern very faintly expressed;
7-8 branched caudal-fin rays; body finely spotted;
lateral line complete.
Head depressed; snout and tooth
patches narrow; body more or less fusiform; 17-18
abdominal vertebrae; 23-25 caudal vertebrae; 19 caudal-fin
rays (arrangement: ii-7-8-ii).
occasionally sharply so; dorsum tan or light brown,
venterly pale and largely unpigmented, except for
slight stippling on the underside of the head and
around anal and pelvic fin bases, and scattered
small spots; flank and dorsum well marked with generally
small spots, 1-1.5 times an eye diameter large
or smaller, with sometimes larger blotches posteriad;
pectoral fin unspotted, rays may be dusky in adults;
pelvic fin generally opaque, unspotted; adipose
with pale distal margin, otherwise marked as dorsum;
anal fin matches body ground colour, lightly spotted
in adults, with a pale distal margin in juveniles
and adults; distal 2/3 of caudal fin dusky in juveniles
and young, bounded by a clear distal margin and
pale basal crescent; caudal fin in adults matches
dorsum and flank ground colour, except for a clear
distal margin, and is well marked with fine spots
in large adults (larger than 40cm SL); caudal saddle
and bar pattern weakly developed, even in young;
saddle slightly darker than ground colour and extends
to about mid-depth; pale interspace slightly lighter
than ground colour; caudal bar somewhat darker than
saddle and present mostly on the caudal peduncle
(not the caudal fin).
Care & Compatibility
to be trusted when adult so will need to be kept on
its own. Juveniles can be kept together but would
need to be monitored when growing. Adults can become
quite tame for their owners and can be fed from hand.
The best aquarium conditions for them would be a planted
tank as big as you can afford, anything over a 4ft
long tank with it being wide enough to let it turn
its body without any strain, 24ins being a good guide.
Height is not that important but again 24ins for a
guide. Sand or smooth gravel for the substrate and
also caves, as they like to hide away during the day
and a set-up such as this will mean that you may be
see it poking its head out of its cave as they do
in their natural environment. Another important point
is to position the heater so as not to cause the "Dwarf
Electric Catfish" any damage to its naked body.,
as they do have an aversion to laying against them.
A better bet would be to cover over the heater with
a heater guard or invest in the type of external filter
that has a space for a heater in its make-up. Filtration
would be an external power filter and subdued lighting
would be an advantage as they do not like their surroundings
to be too bright. With that set-up you can enjoy your
pet for many years.
In their natural
habitat they form pairs and lay their eggs in excavated
cavities or holes. Would not be possible in the small
confines of an Aquarium. There have been rumours that
they are mouth brooders, but this needs to be confirmed.
The males tend to be more slender
than the females.
In their natural habitat they
feed on fishes that are stunned by their electrical
charges so adults would need to be fed live fish.
If bought as juveniles you may be able to wean them
on to worm food such as garden worms, frozen bloodworm,
shrimp, krill and small pieces of fish or meat. The
urge to overfeed must be avoided as they can get quite
gluttonous. They could also be trained to take tablet
food. It is a matter of trial and error in different
fin: The median,
unpaired, ventrally located fin that lies behind the
anus, usually on the posterior half of the fish. Caudal
fin: The tail.
peduncle: The narrow part of a fish's body
to which the caudal or tail fin is attached.
The upper (dorsal) surface of the head or body.
Spindle or cigar shaped.
Structure on the upper portion of the gill arches.
line: A sensory line, along the sides of
the body. Pectoral fin: The paired fins just
behind the head. Pelvic fin: The paired fins, between
the pectorals and the anal fins. (also referred to
soft; pter = fin; urus = tail.
(Refers to the adipose fin). microstoma
= Small mouth.
S.M., 2002. A revision of the African electric
catfishes, family Malapteruridae (Teleostei, Siluriformes),
with erection of a new genus and descriptions of fourteen
new species, and an annotated bibliography. Ann. Mus.
R. Afr. Centr., Sci. Zool., 289:155 p. Sandford, Gina; Fishkeeping Answers,