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Chaca chaca  (Hamilton, 1822)            

have not had the fortune, or should that be misfortune, to acquire this facial challenged catfish from the Chacidae family, but its reputation goes before it and is usually purchased for its 'oddity' role in the catfish hobby.

Chach chaca


I suppose you would have to call this catfish 'ugly' even although it is against my catfish loving nature :-) to do so, but the cats from the Chaca genus have a face that only their mother would love.

Now I mention the Chaca genus as there are now three in the family whereas not so long ago it was believed that this family was monotypic (one member). There are now, alongside this months factsheet, Chaca bankanensis, Bleeker, 1852 and the latest Chaca burmensis, Brown & Ferraris, 1988. Chaca chaca is found in Bangladesh, India in the Brahmaputra and Ganges river systems, and Nepal. C.bankanensis locality is Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and the species name of C.burmensis gives its location away as Myanmar (Burma).

Locations of the Family Chacidae

Locations of the Family Chacidae

To differentiate between the three species is not that easy as they look very similar in photo's.
 Chaca bankenensis seems to be a little bit darker in colouration than Chaca chaca  and has  one  less pectoral ray, 1/4 to 1/5 of C. chaca. You can differentiate the difference  between Chaca burmensis and Chaca chaca by the number and the size of the cirri along  the inner edge of the lower lip, C. chaca has 14+ and tend to be relatively longer and/or  thicker. Chaca burmensis usually numbers around 10 or 11 small cirri, and they don’t tend  to have them near the corners of the mouth. There seems to be two forms of this species, Archipelagic and peninsular.

This is taken from a recent (October 2006) article by Steven Grant on the differences. "Roberts visually differentiated C. chaca from C. bankanensis by the fact that C. chaca has 5 soft pectoral fin rays, versus 4. This can quite easily be seen if you look at the fish from above (see images), even without counting the rays you can see the different shape and relative size of the fin. Unfortunately burmensis can also sometimes have 4 rays, so the number of rays themselves are not indicative. The first indicator to use then, is to look for the tiny barbel on the rim of the posterior nostril. C. chaca and burmensis do not have this, but unfortunately some Peninsular Form bankanensis don’t either, so if the fish has no posterior barbel, also then look at the shape of the pectoral fin when viewed from above. If it has a posterior nostril barbel, or the shape of the fin is that in the image above, you have a bankanensis. There are some other minor visual differences that are sometimes quoted, but I find it more reliable to use the ones I have given".

"Differentiating chaca from burmensis using the naked eye is not as easy. Most of the differences listed in Brown & Ferraris use information inaccessible for aquarists using live fish. The number and extent of cirri is very variable in chaca, so although burmensis appear generally to have less, some chaca do also. C. burmensis tend to have a blacker base colour, but again this can be seen in chaca also. Brown & Ferraris state that “On the head, flattened flaps of skin, usually branched at the tip, occur laterally in the region of the cheek and opercle. None is found along the dorsal surface of the head or immediately posterior to the eye, as in C. chaca”. However, in some C. chaca, there aren’t any flattened flaps of skin on the head, or associated with the eye either (although there are cirri, but there are also some cirri in burmensis). The easiest way I have found to differentiate them using live specimens, is to look at the number and relative size of the cirri along the inner edge of the lower lip. In the C. burmensis I have seen, they usually number around 10 or 11 small cirri, and they don’t tend to have them near the corners of the mouth. In the C. chaca that I have seen, they tend to number at 14+ and tend to be relatively longer or thicker"

You can access Steven Grants article here.

Chaca chaca, showing the large mouth and the hooklets on the bottom jaw.

Chaca chaca, showing the large mouth and the hooklets on the bottom jaw.

German catfish aquarist Klaus Dreymann has monitored Chaca chaca for what he believes is, that this catfish is able to secrete certain substances that lower the pH level in its tank and in doing so can sometimes poison other inhabitants of the aquarium with a drop from 7.0 to 5.5 in a matter of a week. I would surmise that in excreting the waste products away from the kidneys and into the water that it must be of a very high acid content considering its diet, and thus lowering the p.H in a very confined area. Of course this would not happen in its native habitat in the large rivers of India, where millions of gallons are flowing by instead of the paltry handful that we let them exist on.

It is also said that they have a very pungent dorsal fin spine leading to a very sore hand if impaled on it, which is common to a fair amount of the order Siluriformes.

On summing up this months factsheet you would be better acquiring this catfish if you knew that you could feed it properly, starting of with live food such as Cichlid fry (see Compatibility section) and maybe Guppies (worth a try) until hopefully you can wean them on to more friendly foods such as large earthworms other worm foods and beefheart, as I am prone to a bit of guilt when feeding fish to other fish. :-(

Since I have finished writing this factsheet I know fancy having a go at this unusual animal myself, as I have "wetted" my own appetite, as I hope I have yours too

Acknowledgement: Klaus Dreymann from

                                Steven Grant

Dorsal 1/3-4; Anal 7-10; Pectoral 1/5; Ventral 6. Body tadpole like, anteriorly and strongly depressed, posteriorly strongly compressed, without lateral scutes but covered with a thick horny skin. Mouth very broad. Dorsal fin small. The rounded caudal fin extends far forwards on both dorsal and ventral surfaces. 1 pair of very short, often merely peg-like, barbels at the corners of the mouth. Older specimens have small, arborescent appendages at the corners of the mouth.

Black-Brown with numerous black and pale spots and blotches, the head somewhat paler and the belly white with closely-approximated dark blotches. Fins dark brown with black blotches and whitish to fawn edges.

This catfish does not do a lot apart from sitting very still buried in the substrate waiting for its next meal and then engulfing its prey by opening its very large mouth and basically creates a strong vacuum, whereas the unlucky victim is drawn in to the gaping hole!. It is a very hardy aquarium fish that will do very well on a sand/leaf substrate where it can bury itself with just its head showing and also a landscape of rocks and caves. It is not your average community tank fish so I would choose my tankmates carefully for fear of them getting eaten as they will consume fish half their size. Probably any species of the African Synodontis would do fine and for the upper layers you would do better with larger shoaling fish such as Congo tetras, or larger barbs i.e. Tinfoil Barbs. This would pre-empt a larger tank to house the larger barbs or characins. If you can make the space, a better idea would be a species tank with 3 to 4 individuals, as they seem to coincide peacefully with one another with a feeding of earthworms and other meaty foods such as feeder fish like young Tilapia sp. They are said also to take tablet food when fully acclimatized.

There is a substantiated report in the Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine of March 1992 by Sharad R. Sane and Leena R. Bhide on the successful spawning of Chaca chaca. Three males and one female were set up in a bare bottomed tank 36" x 18" x 18" with an 8" asbestos pipe with a 3" diameter. This tank also contained Danio's, Rasboras and four Perch, Nandus nebulosus.

One morning in April 1989 they noticed that one of the four Chaca's was in the pipe. The next morning all of the Nandus had bulging bellies even although they had not recently been fed. They found fry still in the pipe with the male guarding them and as they emerged from the pipe the Nandus were eating them. The rest of the fish were removed from the tank including the other three Chaca and a total of 78 fry were raised from that spawning.

The other three Chaca were settled in another tank of their own with the same setup, and they also spawned with one of the males guarding the eggs. They hatched between 3 and 4 days and the fry started feeding after losing their yolk sac after 7 days, with an incredible raising of 392 young up to 1½ ins.

In their native habitat they feed on other fish such as Betta's and various Cyprinids. In the aquarium, will feed also on live food such as other smaller fishes and fry. Will take worm foods such as large earthworms, chopped beaf heart, shrimp and can be weaned on to tablet food. The main criteria is to give them a varied diet with live food being predominant.

Chaca: From the vernucucular name 'Chaca'

Relevant Articles
The Chaca's

Grant; Steven, Article no. 90, www.scotcat.com, The Chaca's
Sterba, Gunther
; Sterba's Freshwater Fishes of the World 1
Baench; Aquarium Atlas 3

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2002.
FishBase.World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, 27th October 2002
Talwar, P.K. and A.G. Jhingran, 1992.
Inland fishes of India and adjacent countries. Volume 2.. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam.
WelsHomePage Chaca chaca
(or the growling monster).
Tropical Fish Hobbyist; March 1992, The successful Spawning of Chaca chaca, p196-199

Factsheet Request

Photo Credits
Top picture:       Allan James @  
Bottom picture: Klauss Dreyman @ WelsHomePage
Factsheet 077

Platystacus chaca
Common Name:
Indian frog-mouth catfish
Asia: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaya and Indonesia. Reported from Myanmar
19cm. (7½ins)
22-24°C (71-75°F)
6.5 - 8.0
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                                                                                                                                     Factsheet 77 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top