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Malapterurus microstoma Poll & Gosse, 1969

s with most of this family
this 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 resides in Lake Tanganyika (M. tanganyikaensis) do not have as large a potential electrical current probably due to the more alkaline conditions that exist there.

Malapterurus microstoma

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.


You can notice the differences in the pattern on the caudal and caudal peduncle of M. electricus and M. microstoma but the biggest discrepancy is the shape of the snout as can be seen in the images depicted. Sharp snout: M. microstoma, Rounded or blunt snout: M. electricus. The common name of Dwarf Electric Catfish for M. microstoma is I feel a misdemeanor as this species can still grow to an impressive 60cm (24ins)

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.



Malapterurus microstoma


Malapterurus microstoma = showing the sharp snout



Malapterurus electricus = showing the rounded snout and different caudal and peduncle pattern


Malapterurus microstoma = albino


Malapterurus microstoma = albino


The above image shows an unusual catch, a wild caught albino captured by fish importer Thomas Kobe in the Congo.


A 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!.



Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 10 - 13; Vertebrae: 40 - 42. Diagnosis: tooth patches narrow; horizontally based pectoral fins, placed low on the body; snout sharply narrowed rostrally; 40-42 vertebrae; 7-29 gill-rakers; 11-12 anal-fin rays; caudal saddle and bar pattern very faintly expressed; 7-8 branched caudal-fin rays; body finely spotted; lateral line complete. Head depressed; snout and tooth patches narrow; body more or less fusiform; 17-18 abdominal vertebrae; 23-25 caudal vertebrae; 19 caudal-fin rays (arrangement: ii-7-8-ii).

Bicoloured, occasionally sharply so; dorsum tan or light brown, venterly pale and largely unpigmented, except for slight stippling on the underside of the head and around anal and pelvic fin bases, and scattered small spots; flank and dorsum well marked with generally small spots, 1-1.5  times an eye diameter large or smaller, with sometimes larger blotches posteriad; pectoral fin unspotted, rays may be dusky in adults; pelvic fin generally opaque, unspotted; adipose with pale distal margin, otherwise marked as dorsum; anal fin matches body ground colour, lightly spotted in adults, with a pale distal margin in juveniles and adults; distal 2/3 of caudal fin dusky in juveniles and young, bounded by a clear distal margin and pale basal crescent; caudal fin in adults matches dorsum and flank ground colour, except for a clear distal margin, and is well marked with fine spots in large adults (larger than 40cm SL); caudal saddle and bar pattern weakly developed, even in young; saddle slightly darker than ground colour and extends to about mid-depth; pale interspace slightly lighter than ground colour; caudal bar somewhat darker than saddle and present mostly on the caudal peduncle (not the caudal fin).

Aquarium Care

Adults 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. Another important point is to position the heater so as not to cause the "Dwarf 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. Filtration 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.



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 monitored when growing.

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.

Sexual differences
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 individuals.

Glossary of Terms

Anal fin: The median, unpaired, ventrally located fin that lies behind the anus, usually on the posterior half of the fish.
Pectoral fin: The paired fins just behind the head.
Caudal fin: The tail.
Caudal peduncle: The narrow part of a fish's body to which the caudal or tail fin is attached.
Pelvic fin: The paired fins, between the pectorals and the anal fins. (also referred to as ventrals)
Gill-rakers: Structure on the upper portion of the gill arches.
Lateral line: A sensory line, along the sides of the body.
: Spindle or cigar shaped.
Dorsum: The upper (dorsal) surface of the head or body.


Malapterurus = Mala = soft; pter = fin; urus = tail. (Refers to the adipose fin)

microstoma = Small mouth.

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 1993.

Photo Credits

1 & 2:     © Serge Mevellec

3: © Chris Ralph @ The Ralpster Photo Gallery


Bottom: © Thomas Kobe

Factsheet 264

Common Name:
Dwarf Electric Catfish


Africa: Congo basin; mainstream and large tributaries
60cm. (24ins)
23 -28°C (73 -83°F)    
6.5 -7.2.
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                                                                                                            Factsheet 264 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top