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Neosilurus ater  (Perugia, 1894)                                      

e are off "down under" for our latest factsheet this month (May 2005) with a visit to a member of the Plotosidae family, the Narrow-Fronted or Black Tandon Catfish, Neosilurus ater from Northern Australia and New Guinea.

Neosilurus ater

There are about 30 species of the Plotosidae family that inhabit coastal seas, estuaries, and inland waters (Allen, 1989)
of Australia and New Guinea. The majority reside in streams and lakes with slow running water but Neosilurus ater is found in streams and rivers where the current is fairly swift and as such would be better housed in an aquarium with moving water.

The juveniles of this species (up to 18cm-7ins) possesses a silver mottled appearance and when reaching adulthood they take on a grey to black body colour with a lighter underbelly.
You can see a smaller mottled juvenile in the picture below.

Neosilurus ater

You can see on the map below the habitat locations for this species in Australia centre around the streams in the north. There are two populations in Australia (Allen, 1989). The Western population occurs in the Carson River range and the two smaller populations in the Cape York Peninsula in the Jardine and Starcke rivers. In New Guinea they are found in the central southern area. It is thought that the individuals seen in the trade come from the New Guinea area.


It has to be remembered that the members of this family posses venomous and sharp spines on the pectoral and dorsal fins and so care must be taken to avoid a nasty wound when handling.

In its natural habitat they feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects, mollusc, and prawns.

An aquarium set-up would contain a gravel substrate with hiding places such as PVC pipes or slate/stonework as this is a shy species and such a set-up will make this species feel secure in its surroundings. The tank must not be too small as N.ater can grow upwards of 40cm (16ins), but may have a smaller size in captivity, and so needs this space to move around in. You can keep this species in a group but as mentioned you would need to provide a pretty large aquarium to carry out this task.

Acknowledgment: Heok Hee Ng for providing informational material for this factsheet.

Head broad and slightly flattened; body tapering posteriorly. Small dorsal fin composed of a sharp spine with 5 to 7 soft rays; second dorsal and anal fin confluent with caudal fin, composed of about 120 to 160 rays. Pectoral spine with sharp spine and 11 to 13 soft rays; ventral rays 12 to 15.

Grey to black, often lighter on underside; sometimed with paler blotching on side.

Juveniles up to 18cm (7ins) are peacefull schooling fishes but with ongoing size they can become predatory towards smaller 6mm (2ins) fish.

No reports on the breeding of this species in captivity. In their natural habitat they lay their eggs in the month of December in shallow areas with a good water flow over a gravel or sand substrate. The eggs are 2mm in size.

A good quality flake food, tablet food and pellets and live foods of any kind.

Neosilurus: Neo means "new" in latin and "silurus" From 'silouros', a kind of river fish. Silurus, sheetfish, catfish. According to Lacepéde (1803) this word indicates the rapidity with which Silurus can move its tail.
: Black.

Jackson, Lee; An Australian Eel Catfish, FAMA - p130
Allan, R.Gerald Dr.; Freshwater Fishes of Australia T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1989 p59
Baench, A. Hans & Riehl, Rüdiger Dr.; Aquarium Atlas 2, p568

Photo Credits
© Dave Wison @ Aquagreen

© Julian Dignall @ Planet Catfish
Factsheet 107

Lambertia atra, Tandanus ater, Neosilurus mediobarbis, Neosilurus ater sepikensis
Common Name:
Narrow - fronted Tandon, Black Tandon
Australia Northen Australia; Carson River range, Cape York Peninsula in the Jardine and Starcke Rivers
New Guinea; Southern region.
40cm. (16ins) but may grow smaller in the aquarium
22-30°C (71-87°F)
6.0 - 8.0.
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                                                                                                                                            Factsheet 107 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top