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Acanthodoras cataphractus  (Linnaeus, 1758) 

This month we welcome back regular contributor, Chris Ralph with a look at an old favourite in the hobby the "Spiny catfish" and a host of other common names such as the Milky Catfish, Talking Catfish, Chocolate Talking Catfish, Chocolate Raphael or Bacu. We hand you over to Chris now and a insight into this old member of the Doradidae family.


canthodoras cataphractus
is very popular amongst a number of catfish enthusiasts myself included. Unfortunately it is not commonly available to the hobbyist, but is sometimes imported amongst other representatives of the family Doradidae. When this fascinating catfish is available expect to pay £10- £12 for an adult fish (2005 u.k. prices). In their natural habitat these catfish are said to be abundant in the calm waters of swamps and mangroves. These catfish are most active at night preferring to take refuge during the day.

Acanthodoras cataphractus

Acanthodoras cataphractus belongs to the family Doradidae (Thorny Catfishes) from South America namely the Amazon River basin and coastal drainages of French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname. Acanthodoras cataphractus is also documented as being native to Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.


Acanthodoras cataphractus prefer to be kept in water which has a pH in the range of 6.0-7.5, and hardness in the range of 4.0 to25.0°dGH. This catfish is ideally suited to temperatures in the range of 22-26ºC or 71-79°F.



Acanthodoras cataphractus



I would suggest a minimum size of 36” x 15” X 12” for a shoal of these fascinating catfish. The preferred substrate for keeping these catfish should be good quality aquarium sand such as BD Aquarium Sand, or very smooth rounded gravel in order to prevent their barbels from being damaged. The aquarium should provide some shelter in the form of rocks, bogwood and aquatic plants. As with all other species of fish, water quality and general husbandry is very important, and I would recommend that a minimum of 25% water is changed on a fortnightly basis.



The body shape of Acanthodoras cataphractus is described as being depressed or flattened and elongated. The body is naked and is best described as being without scales. The body has a lateral row of bony plates which bear backwardly projecting spines referred to as “scutes”. There are a number of small spiny projections above and below the lateral line situated behind the dorsal fin and extending towards the caudal fin. The head of Acanthodoras cataphractus is large and flattened and is described as being granular with solidly united bones. The mouth is described as being terminal, with three pairs of barbels one pair of maxillary and two pairs of mandibular. The eyes are small or “piggy”. The dorsal fin has 1 spine and 5 soft rays and the anal fin has 10-11 soft rays. 

The base colour of the body and head is chocolate brown (hence the common name of Chocolate Talking Catfish) overlaid with some almost creamy orange markings almost forming a stripe which leads from the head into the lateral line and body scutes; whilst giving some blotchy markings over the rest of the body which are mainly on the ventrolateral region of the body. The fin spines are coloured as are the fins themselves.

Wherever possible I would recommend that the aquarist keep these catfish in small groups of four to six specimens, assuming that they are available in these numbers; failing this Acanthodoras cataphractus are quite happy to shoal with other members of the family Doradidae. In their natural habitat they would be found in very large shoals. These catfish are ideally suited to being kept in a community aquarium environment with other medium to large species of fish such as Bleeding Heart Tetras, Emperor Tetras and other catfish. The main thing to remember is that these catfish have quite a large mouth and are capable of eating any fish small enough to fit inside.

Acanthodoras cataphractus are documented as having been spawned in aquaria. Both parents were observed digging a depression in the substrate into which the eggs were deposited. The eggs were guarded by both fish. The eggs hatched after 4-5 days although unfortunately the young did not survive beyond the fry stage of development.

As with all the other doradids that I have had the pleasure to keep over the years, Acanthodoras cataphractus is omnivorous and readily accepts a mixed and varied diet which they search through the substrate for. I personally feed all of my doradids on sinking catfish pellets, good quality flake foods, granular foods, cultured whiteworm, earthworms, aquatic snails which they relish and frozen foods such as bloodworm to name but a few.

Acanthodoras from the Greek acantha = thorns, and doras, meaning skin; in reference to the spines on the bony scutes along the lateral line, and cataphracta/us = armoured or mail-clad.

Glossary of Terms 

Ventrolateral is defined as extending from below and to the side.

Scute is defined as a bony plate.

Dorsal is defined as top or above.

Maxillary is defined as being in relation to the maxilla, the bone of the upper jaw.

Mandibular is defined as being in relation to the mandible or lower jaw.

Depressed is defined as flattened from top to bottom.

Lateral is defined as side.

Terminal is defined as being the end point.

Photo Credits
All images by Author





Factsheet 140

Silurus cataphractus, Cataphractus americanus, Doras blochii, D.brunnescens, D.castaneoventris, Callichthys asper
Common Name:
Spiny Catfish, Milky Catfish, Talking Catfish, Chocolate Talking Catfish, Chocolate Raphael or Bacu
South America: Amazon River basin and coastal drainages of French Guiana, Guyana and Surinam
15cm. (6ins) (standard length – this is the measurement of the fish from the tip of the snout to the base of the caudal peduncle).
22-26°C (71-79°F)   
6.0 -7.5.
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                                                                                                                                        Factsheet 140= updated December 13, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top