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 reside in Lake Tanganyika (M.
do not have as large a potential electrical current
probably due to the more alkaline conditions that
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.
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.
is an old world catfishand it is reputed
that Doctors in ancient Egypt used shocks from the
Electric Catfish to reduce the pain of arthritis.
This trait is still used today in some areas. It also
has the earliest reference of them as hieroglyphics
on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs dating back
some 5000 years.
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.
important point is to position the heater so as not
to cause the "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.
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.
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!.
Nile and tropical Africa (except Lake Victoria and
rivers of East Africa north of the Zambezi),
Lake Tanganyika and probably Malagarazi, Fernando
Poo Island. Also known from the lower and middle
Zambezi, Pungwe, lower Save, and throughout the Congo
Anal-9. No rayed dorsal fin,
adipose fin short, pectorals without spines, caudal
rounded. Head and body rounded and fleshy, mouth terminal,
teeth fine, in broad bands on both jaws, 3 pairs barbels,
outer mandibulars longest, reaching base of pectorals,
gill slits short, restricted to sides.
Body grey to to brown above
with a white underside. Numerous black spots and
blotches along the body, denser on posterior half.
Caudal fin dark at base margined with orange or
red, anal fin similarly coloured. Ventral and pectoral
fins yellowish to red. Young specimens differ from
adults - the body being flesh coloured with very
few black spots and having a light ring around the
caudal peduncle and a vertical black bar at the
base of the caudal fin.
Care & Compatibility
Not to be trusted when adult
so will need to be kept on its own. Juveniles can
be kept together but would need to be monitered when
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
to the lower jaw. (mandibular barbels).
soft; pter = fin; urus = tail.
(Refers to the adipose fin). electricus
Association Great Britain: Volume 1. p,101.
Norris, 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, May
Skelton, Paul; A complete Guide to the Freshwater
Fishes of Southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers.
p 238-239. Wimo, Jørgen; African Shocker,
Aquarist & Pondkeeper, Sep.1989.