African Sharptooth Catfish, Clarias gariepinus

Image Credit: WA Djatmiko/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0)

The African sharptooth catfish is native throughout Africa, and the Middle East, and in the 1980’s it was introduced all over the world. This catfish lives on muddy bottoms in freshwater lakes, rivers, swamps, man-made habitats, and occasionally found in urban sewage systems.

This species is able to crawl across dry ground to another body of water when one pool dries up. It is also able to survive for long periods of time in shallow mud, between rainy seasons. Sometimes the African sharptooth catfish will make loud croaking sounds.

This large eel-like fish has two different color patterns; both patterns have a dark grey or black body that fades into a white belly; one pattern has a lateral white line extending from the head to the tail; the other has a marbled pattern with dark splotches covering the body. The average length for the African sharp-tooth catfish is four feet, but can reach up to 5.5 feet, and can weigh 64 pounds.

The body is slender with a flat bony head, and a wide mouth having four pairs of barbels protruding from it. Inside the mouth are several rows of small fine teeth. The pectoral fins are the only ones with a spine, the long dorsal fin has 61 – 80 soft rays, it begins close to the head and almost reaches the tail, while the anal fin starts towards the center on the caudal (tail) side of body and almost reaches the tail; it has 45 – 65 soft rays.

The African sharptooth catfish feeds a night on the bottom, occasionally grabbing prey from the surface and on land. It will feed on a wide variety of prey including insects, plankton, invertebrates, and other fish, but sometimes will move on land to grab young birds, rotting flesh and plants.

Spawning of this species happens at night in shallow areas of the lakes and rivers. The male will curve its body in a U-shape around the female’s head for several seconds, milt and eggs are released and the female will distribute the eggs to a wide area by swishing her tail. The pair will rest, up to several minutes, and then resume mating. The eggs are left unguarded and within 48 – 72 hours after fertilization, the larvae are able to swim.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Siluriformes

Family: Clariidae