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Bagrichthys macracanthus   Bleeker 1854                          

his I believe is the crème de la crème of catfishes and little did I know of the mysteries to unfold before I had started out on this months factsheet.

Bagrichthys macracanthus


I had mistakenly believed that the black lancer (the common name for this fish) was indeed Bagrichthys hypselopterus and indeed most of the information on this species in the publications past had stated thus. Although aquarists believed that the fish imported as the 'black lancer' was Bagrichthys hypselopterus, we now know that the 'black lancer' is actually B. macracanthus. Sadly, the even more beautiful B.hypselopterus has never been imported. (unless you know of a time when it was imported, my research has not turned up any)

To get to the bottom of this mystery, basically B. hypselopterus grows larger than macracanthus at about 10" while the latter grows to about 7ins. standard length  ( measured from the snout to the insertion of the caudal fin - caudal peduncle), the dorsal is also higher at about 12ins., although the dorsal fin length of macracanthus is still fairly impressive. Another noticeable difference concerns the barbels of both species, hypselopterus has Synodontis like projections whereas the 'black lancer' has only simple short barbels. In common with other members of the bagridae family and other Asian catfish, they have four pair, one pair of maxillary, one pair mandibular, one pair mental and one pair of nasal barbels which project from the top of the head near the nostrils.

Bagrichthys macracanthus


How do we keep the black lancer?, well I can only speak from experience as I have been fortunate enough to posses one of these majestic cats (female) for the last 3 to 4 years and is now around an impressive 6ins. It is housed in a 4ft x 15" x 18" tank with one Synodontis species and two smaller bagrids so it is certainly not cramped for space. I find that it is the first out for food at feeding time and this lets me have a look at the condition and its well being as they have naked skin and can easily get scratched, which can sometimes leave a scar to spoil the overall black sooty effect of its colouration and could possibly lead to infection.  ( Synodontis are prone to defending themselves with their pectoral fins which can cause scratch marks when kept with other naked skin 'cats'), but so far there has been no quarrels of any kind between it and the 'black lancer', possibly because they have their own territory staked out with plenty of pipework.

As stated, provide territories, be it pipework or slatework, as you will be able to view them at feeding time as they will feel more secure in their surroundings. Substrate can be a matter of choice, I have rounded pea gravel but sand would also make a good substitute with plants such as java fern, java moss and possibly tall amazon swords or giant vallis for the corners of the aquarium.

Sexing of this species is relatively easy as the males barbels are twice as long as the females and the males possess a genital papilla, also the females tend to be heavier in body shape.

Acknowledgements : Asian catfish specialist Shane Linder for his help in preparing this months factsheet.

Long dorsal fin spine with 18-19 serrae in adults. Gill rakers 10-14. Pectoral fin rays 9.

Body dark brown to black with pale stripe along lateral line, sometimes, with 2-3 irregular yellowish brown vertical bands.

The male 'black lancers' can be very territorial and as such can be only be kept, one male to a tank with the rest females. Although they posses a small mouth it is wide, but they don't tend to be a threat to other fishes as such, although if you keep very small fish with them they could be picked of at night as the lancer enjoys its night-time forays.

Not recorded.

Frozen foods (bloodworm), whiteworm, garden worms,catfish tablets, trout pellets, algae tablets and wafers.

Bagrichthys: From 'bagre', a South American name for a catfish, but is only used for African and Asian species.
macracanthus: Large spined

Linder R. S; 1999. Unraveling the Mysteries of the Black Lancer. FAMA November, 1999: 194-196.
Kottelat, Maurice; Fishes of Laos.
WHT Publications (Pte) Ltd., p122

Photo Credits
Top:         Dr David Sands.  From Catfishes of the World, Vol 5. used with permision.

Bottom:   Allan James @  ScotCat
Factsheet 44

Bagroides macracanthus, Pseudobagrichthys macracanthus, Leiocassis macropterus, Bagroides vaillanti  
Common Name:
Black Lancer
Asia: Sumatra. Type locality: Moara kompeh, in fluviis, Sumatra.  
18cm ( 7¼ins)
24-27°C (75-81°F)
6.5 - 7.0
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                                                                                                                                                     Factsheet 44= updated January 2, 2005, © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top