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Amphilius uranoscopus (Pfeffer, 1889)

his month (Sept. 2018) we are of to Africa and a little known species from a little know genera. Commonly known as "Loach Catfishes"or "African Whiptails" due to the resemblance that some of them have to the whiptails of the South American Loricariidae family. Not too well known to aquarists as they are only sporadically exported. A little harder to keep than their South American companions. They do like moving water hence their other common name of "African hill stream fishes".


Amphilius uranoscopus


Amphilius uranoscopus is a demersal species that colonises lakes but prefers fast flowing streams, with pebbles and boulders, where the water is rich in oxygen (Seegers 1996). It survives in fast flowing rapids by paired fins adapted to form suckers to allow the fish to flatten themselves against the rocks.

It is
widespread in Central and East Africa up to the Mkuze system in South Africa. Also in the upper Congo drainage as well as the Zambezi and Okavango, and west to Angola. Possibly absent from the upper Little Ruaha and Malawi drainage in Tanzania, and from the northern Malagarasi where this species may be replaced by A. kivuensis




Amphilius uranoscopus - in photo tank


The species shown in the first image was captured by the image contributor in the Wami drainage: CAS 80494, Tanzania, Nguru Mountains, Nguru South Forest Reserve, 6°7'S, 37°32'E (2: 49.1-101.4); BMNH 1969.1.15.1, Tanzania, Stream at Arusha in the foothills of Mount Meru, 3°21'57"S, 36°40'28"E (1: 84.7). It is not known whether the spotted species from the north Malagarasi drainage is A. uranoscopus or are another species such as A. kivuensis.

The common name of "Stargazer mountain catfish" refers to the upturned eyes on top of the head.

Abstract from Thomson A.W. and Lawrence M. P. (2010).
The taxonomy of the Amphilius uranoscopus group in Kenya is revised. Amphilius athiensis n. sp. is described from the Galana River basin, and Amphilius grandis and Amphilius krefftii are removed from synonymy with A. uranoscopus and redescribed. All three species are assigned to the Amphilius uranoscopus group, which is distinguished from other species of Amphilius by the absence of a crenellated epidermal fold at the base of the caudal fin, having 8+9 (i,7,8,i) principal caudal-fin rays, usually having 36 to 42 total vertebrae, and by having the leading pterygiophore of the dorsal fin intercepting the vertebral column at the first, second or third post-Weberian vertebra. Six species are recognized in the A. uranoscopus group (A. athiensis n. sp., Amphilius chalei, Amphilius cryptobullatus, A. grandis, A. krefftii, and A. uranoscopus). They are distinguished from each other by colouration, barbel length, caudal fin shape, body and caudal peduncle depth, number of vertebrae, and by the development of their bilateral bony swimbladder capsules.



D i, 6; A iii, 5-7. Body and head compressed, eyes small and on top of head. First dorsal fin short, with a soft single ray, adipose fin short and deep, notched behind. Caudal peduncle length equal to its depth, caudal fin emarginate or shallowly forked. Fan-like pectoral and pelvic fins lack spines.

Colour variable, usually yellowish-brown or greyish-brown, mottled or with black shadows, blotches or spots.

Aquarium Care

Can be kept in aquaria with a small grained gravel or sand substrate, and well planted.



Peaceful fish with other companions who like water movement in the aquaria.

This species breeds in summer, laying eggs underneath stones. The juveniles are easily mistaken for tadpoles. It is preyed on by trout and probably eels (Skelton 1993).

Sexual differences
Not reported but probably males will have a better colouration and the females with a fuller body profile


It feeds on stream insects and other small organisms off rock surfaces (Skelton 1993) so insect larvae, small crustacea, vegetable flake and, tablet foods would suffice.

Glossary of Terms

Demersal: Sinking to or lying on the bottom; living on or near the bottom and feeding on benthic organisms.
Dorsal fin: The primary rayed fin(s) on top of the body
Pelvic fins: The paired fins, between the pectorals and the anal fins. (also referred to as ventrals)
Caudal peduncle: The narrow part of a fish's body to which the caudal or tail fin is attached.
Caudal fin: The tail.
Adipose fin: Fleshy finlike projection without rays, behind the rayed dorsal fin.
Emarginate: Concave; used to describe the posterior border of a caudal fin which is inwardly curved; a caudal fin with a slightly concave margin.
Epidermes: Outer layer of the skin.


Amphilius: Ame = water bucket; philia = friendly love.


Ferraris, C.J. Jr., 2007. Checklist of catfishes, recent and fossil (Osteichthyes: Siluriformes), and catalogue of siluriform primary types. Zootaxa 1418:1-628
Bills, R., Cambray, J., Hanssens, M. & Marshall, B. 2010. Amphilius uranoscopus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T182690A7944254. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-3.RLTS.T182690A7944254.en. Downloaded on 01 December 2015.
Skelton, P.H., 1993. A complete guide to the freshwater fishes of southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers. 388 p
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2015.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, ( 10/2015 )
Seegers, L., 2008. The catfishes of Africa: A handbook for identification and maintenance. Aqualog Verlag A.C.S. GmbH, Germany. 604 p.

Bruton, M., Merron, G., Skelton, P., Fishes of the Okavango Delta & Chobe River, Botswana. Struik Nature, 2018.
Thomson A. W., and Lawrence M. P. 2010. Taxonomic Revision of the Amphilius Uranoscopus Group (Teleostei: Siluriformes) in Kenya, with the Description of a New Species from the Athi River.

Photo Credits

First: © Hans van Heusden

Bottom: Andrew Deacon









Factsheet 267

Anoplopterus uranoscopus, Chimarrhoglanis leroyi, Amphilius hargeri, Amphilius oxyrhinus, Amphilius brevidorsalis, Amphilius platychir cubangoensis.
Common Name:
Stargazer mountain catfish


Africa (eastern) : Okavango and Zambezi basins, eastern coastal Rivers south to the Mkuze basin, Natal, and throughout east and Central Africa (Skelton, 1993); Lake Rukwa basin (Seegers, 1996). Type locality: Bad bei Ushonda (Ungúu), ... Bäche bei Mhonda.
18.0cm. (7ins)
20-24°c (67-75°f.)
6.5 -7.5.
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                                                                                                            Factsheet 267 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top