Sharptooth Catfish

Clarias gariepinus

Distributed naturally over almost all of sub-Saharan Africa and in a few river systems in the Middle East as well, the Sharptooth Catfish is a most adaptable species capable of living in almost any freshwater habitat; adapting even to life in sewerage treatment works or very muddy, drying pools. This is thanks to their ability to breathe air directly and their ability to travel across dry ground, especially in wet weather.

One of the biggest freshwater fish in Africa, Sharptooth Catfish may grow to 1.7m in length and weigh up to 60kg. They’re omnivores and will feed on anything living or dead that will fit in their sizable mouths. In turn they fall victim to many predatory birds, mammals and crocodiles.

Sharptooth Catfish spawn in seasonally inundated areas surrounding their home waters, usually at night following good rains. Males become involved in serious fights for dominance and the right to mate with females. Females are very fertile – even a catfish weighing only 2kg can produce 45,000 eggs! The eggs hatch within 1-3 days of being laid, and the fry develop exceptionally quickly. There is no maternal care for the eggs or newly hatched fry – in fact, cannibalism is very common in this species.

The IUCN lists the Sharptooth Catfish as being of least concern. – it is probably the most widely distributed fish species on the continent of Africa. It is a popular aquaculture species (especially in poorer communities) and has been introduced in various other parts of the world, where escaped populations are a serious danger to indigenous fish and other water-living creatures. In South Africa they occur naturally in all provinces except the Eastern and Western Cape, though they have invaded freshwater systems in these provinces as well thanks to water transfer schemes and stocking by farmers and anglers.

31 thoughts on “Sharptooth Catfish

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    Hola! I’ve not completely dropped off the planet, and am slowly getting caught up.. The catfish of course ‘hooked me’ and reeled me closer for a better inspection. Comparing this one to the channel cats – and others from Mississippi, this one doesn’t show a ‘painful’ dorsal fin pointing toward the sky. There is an art to holding one, and after being stuck, one learns to hold them well! I don”t know about the status of catfish here in Ecuador – gives me some new trivia to pursue! I know that there is an invasive bulllfrog that’s native to the Southern USA – that’s ‘escaped’ and is in the wetlands of western Ecuador. That’s another one I don’t know the details — ah, so much to learn, and so few hours in each day!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Indeed, Hien. Notably though, as is always the case, it is only when they’re introduced to areas where nature didn’t put them that they become invasive – in their natural distribution there are more than enough predators that can keep them in check.

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  2. wetanddustyroads

    Dis darem nou maar nie ‘n mooi vis nie … en as ek so lees waar hy bly en wat hy eet, wil ek hom ook nie graag op my bord he nie (ek neem aan daar’s mense wat seker nie ‘n keuse het nie). En dan kan hy ook amper so groot raak soos ‘n (klein) mensie – sjoe!

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  3. Anne

    Intrigued by the gariepinus part of its name, I checked out the etymology of it and quote:
    Clarias: Greek, chlaros = lively, in reference to the ability of the fish to live for a long time out of water; gariepinus: Named after its type locality, the Gariep river, the Hottentot name for the Orange river, South Africa. I imagine the catfish part comes from its whiskered appearance.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I suppose the Latin name makes sense, given that the Orange River is the first river in which they naturally occur that would be encountered when travelling inland from the Cape?

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Jy sal dalk verbaas wees om te weet dat groot babers eintlik glad nie “grate” het nie, Ineke. Hul ribbebene is groot en maklik om te verwyder. Meeste van ons riviere is egter so besoedel dat ek nie sommer varswatervis sal eet nie, maar baie mense het nie n ander keuse nie.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      About where their name comes from I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Janet. Catfish are a large and diverse family and your local catfish probably are a different species, although these have been established on other continents too.

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