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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes > Family Plotosidae
Striped eeltail catfish
Plotosus lineatus

Family Plotosidae
updated Oct 2016
if you learn only 3 things about it ...
Often seen in a group of many fishes, for safety. Don't break up the group!
The 'whiskers' don't sting. They are used to find food in murky waters.
It has venomous spines. Don't touch it!

Where seen? This eel-like fish in pajamas is often seen on many of our shores, among seagrasses, coral rubble and near reefs. Small ones form a ball of many squirming individuals, while larger ones are seen in smaller groups or alone. It is the only catfish found in coral reefs.

Adults can reach about 30cm long, those seen on the intertidal range from tiny ones about 1cm, to juveniles about 15cm long. Body long and cylindrical, flattening into an eel-like tail. Colour black, brown or even maroon. Two or three stripes along the body. The white or pale yellow stripes are bright in young fishes and may be faded in old adults.

Don't touch! It has one venomous serrated spine on the dorsal fin and on each of the pectoral fins. These can sting most painfully, and in rare cases, may even be fatal.

How to stay safe: Wear covered shoes. Watch your step and walk slowly. Do not step into murky water. Do not handle the fish.

Sometimes confused with Black eeltail catfishes (Plotosus canius). The adults of these two eeltail catfishes may appear similar as the stripes on the Striped eeltail catfish fades with age. In Black eeltail catfish adults, the long barbels at the top of the snout can extend past the eyes. In adult Striped eeltail catfishes, these barbels don't extend past the eyes.

Sometimes mistaken for
sea snakes or eels (Family Muraenidae). Here's more on how to tell apart sea snakes, eels and eel-like animals.

Catfish babies: Striped eeltail catfishes lay eggs that sink to the bottom (demersal eggs). These hatch into larvae that drift with the plankton before changing into little catfishes.

Young striped eeltail catfishes are often found swimming together in a 'ball' of hundreds of fishes, constantly moving but remaining in a dense ball. Smaller fishes tend to swim in groups of more individuals. As the fishes get bigger, they are found in smaller groups. Adults are usually seen alone.

Human uses: Adults are harvested commercially as a food fish with seine nets on the beach or by trawling and marketed fresh. They are also popular in the live aquarium trade although they eat their tankmates, and even one another, as they get bigger.

What does it eat? It forages in the sand for crustaceans, molluscs, worms and sometimes fishes. It uses its barbels to sense for prey while stirring up the sand.

Adults usually seen alone.
Changi, Nov 07

Often found in groups.
Sentosa, Sep 04

Barbels around the mouth.

Small ones often travel in dense balls.
Pulau Semakau, Apr 11

Each about 6cm long.
Sentosa, Jun 06

Each about 4cm long.
Kusu Island, Jun 04

Pulau Semakau, Apr 11

Striped eeltail catfishes on Singapore shores

Photos of Striped eeltail catfishes for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map

Berlayar Creek, Apr 16
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on flickr.

Seringat-Kias, Feb 11

Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his flickr.

Pulau Tekukor, May 10
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.

Sisters Island, May 09
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.

Pulau Hantu, Jun 10
Photo shared by James Koh on his blog.

Terumbu Berkas Besar, Jan 10
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his flickr.

Terumbu Pempang Tengah, Apr 13
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on flickr.

Filmed at Pulau Hantu in Apr 10

Striped Eel-Tailed Catfish from SgBeachBum on Vimeo.



  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
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