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The Talking Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons)

The Talking Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons)

Order Siluriformes, Family Doradidae

Common names Talking catfish, whitebarred catfish, spotted Raphael catfish

Synonyms Doras pectinifrons

Description The talking catfish is a species for those who are prepared to wait a while before they see any activity. Primarily nocturnal, it is shy and retiring, and if rousted from its hiding place will soon emit the croaking sounds which give it its name. This sound is generated by friction of the pectoral fin bones. When it is seen, this is an attractive and unusual catfish; the skin and fin rays are armoured with spines which make them prickly to handle (and quite capable of drawing blood). The black skin is ornamented with large white spots. When small, it is easy to forget you own one of these fish; I owned one which spent the daylight hours wedged into a piece of bogwood. One day the bogwood was inspected and given away. After a car trip out of water, in a plastic bag, the wood reached its new tank, and some weeks later the little catfish was spotted. Unfortunately, any attempt to catch him resulted in him diving back into the bogwood, so there he had to stay. However, they do grow over six inches in size, at which time they are forced to be rather more visible. Nonetheless, it is amazing how a fish of such a size can find a place to make itself invisible.


Apart from its secretive habits, this is a fish reputed to be well-suited to most community aquaria. In practice, they have very large mouths and are not averse to a diet of meat. They are probably best not kept with very small fish, or with other bottom dwellers who may be hurt by the catfish’s movements even if not deliberately attacked. Two separate sources have reported to me of unexplained deaths of young bristlenoses in aquaria with these fish. Nonetheless, they do not appear to be deliberately aggressive, and can be kept (contrary to some reports) with one another and in community aquaria of reasonably sized fish provided there is enough room and cover for all the inhabitants.

Aquarium requirements

When purchasing these fish it is easy to forget that they do grow large. In most aquarium shops even the ‘XL’ specimens usually do not exceed about four inches, but adults can reach over six and become very stocky at the same time; an aquarium three feet long or bigger is recommended. They will be very unhappy in a bare tank, and do need places to hide. Although preferring more acidic water, they are adaptable fish that will fit into most aquarium water conditions. The water should be kept between 70 and 78F, although short-term drops in temperature will be tolerated.


With their secretive lifestyles, many of these fish are doomed to lives of scraping up the remnants of the day’s meals from the bottom at night. This is not an adequate diet, and the aquarist should remember that even sleeping fishes will wake up and need to feed. They will appreciate sinking pellets, pre-soaked flake, and sinking live foods such as bloodworm. You can make sure that the other tank inhabitants don’t eat it all before the poor catfish wakes up, by feeding just after lights out.


There do not appear to be any documented instances of a successful spawn and rearing of the fry. Some sources suggest that they are bubblenest builders, which is borne out by the behaviour of the related Amblydoras hancocki, which is definitely a bubble nester. I have a pair, the female of which manifests the infinitely frustrating behaviour of getting extraordinarily and lopsidedly fat every couple of months, and then slimming down to a sylphlike shape overnight, but I have never actually caught them laying any eggs.

Diseases and disorders
These tough fish are not particularly susceptible to any disorders, other than, perhaps, starvation by owners who forget their presence or assume they can survive on leftovers.

Although attractive, especially when seen in shop tanks where they cannot all squeeze under cover, these are secretive and large fish. Although catfish enthusiasts will appreciate them for what they are, most community aquarists would prefer to use the space for something more visible and active.

This article has been kindly provided by Kathy Jinkings and cannot be reproduced without her permission.

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