> Subphylum Vertebrata > fishes
learn only 3 things about them ...
They lack scales and are sometimes mistaken for eels or
The 'whiskers' don't sting. They are used to find food
in murky waters.
have venomous spines. Don't touch them!
seen? These squirmy fishes that resemble eels are the only
catfishes commonly seen in coral reefs and intertidal areas. They
are sometimes abundant on many of our shores. Juveniles about 10cm
long or smaller can be seen close to mid-water mark, while larger
ones are often sighted hiding among seagrass or coral rubble in deeper
What are eeltail catfishes? Eeltail
catfishes belong to the Family Plotosidae. According to FishBase:
the family has 9 genera and 32 species. The marine species are found
in the Indo-West Pacific Ocean. Most of the members of this family
live in freshwater. Only a few are marine. 'Plotos' means 'to float'
Features: Juveniles from 5cm,
adults to about 30cm. The body is long and cylindrical, flattening
into an eel-like tail, i.e., the dorsal and anal fins are continuous
with the tail fin. To swim, the fish undulates in an eel- or snake-like
manner. Snout blunt with four pairs of 'whiskers' (called barbels)
all around the mouth. One pair on the snout in front of the eyes,
one pair on each side of the mouth and two pairs below the mouth.
It lack scales and has a smooth slimy skin. It makes up for this 'nakedness'
with venomous spines on the dorsal fin and on each of the pectoral
fins. These tough spines can be locked upright, thus making an eeltail
catfish unpleasant for bigger fish to swallow.
Catfishes use their venomous spines to protect themselves against
predators, and not to catch prey. Their stings can be excruciating
and long-lasting. So please don't handle any catfishes.
Sometimes mistaken for sea
catfishes. Sea catfishes are seldom encountered on the intertidal
at low tide. Sea catfishes have barbels too but their tail fins are
forked and not eel-like as in the eeltail catfishes. Eeltail catfishes
are sometimes also mistaken for sea
snakes or eels (Family
Muraenidae). Here's more on how
to tell apart sea snakes, eels and eel-like animals.
What do they eat? Small ones eat
tiny animals and algae. Adult eel-tail catfishes are adapted for hunting
on the sea bottom in murky waters. Prey include crustaceans, molluscs,
worms and sometimes fishes. The barbels around the catfish's mouth
help find prey where visibility is poor. The barbels have taste buds
to help sense food. They don't use their barbels to sting. Catfish
also have a keen sense of hearing and a strong sense of smell. Like
other fishes, catfish smell with their 'noses' (nostril-like openings
on the snout).
Human uses: The Black eeltail
catfish is fished for food and sport in some places. Striped eeltail
catfishes are popular in the aquarium trade although they eat their
tankmates, and even one another, as they get bigger. These are harvested
from the wild.
'Whiskers' help it to find
food in murky waters.
Changi, Aug 05
Sentosa, Sep 04
Small ones may swim in tight groups.
Kusu Island, Jun 04
Great billed heron caught an eeltail catfish!
Chek Jawa, Jan 10
catfishes on Singapore shores
Plotosidae recorded for Singapore
Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity
albilabris (White-lipped eeltail catfish)
Plotosus anguillaris=**Plotosus lineatus
Plotosus canius (Black eeltail
Plotosus lineatus (Striped eeltail
eeltail catfish (Plotosus canius) Tan, Leo W. H. &
Ng, Peter K. L., 1988, A
Guide to Seashore Life. The Singapore Science Centre,
Singapore. 160 pp.
Eeltail Catfish (Paraplotosus albilabris), Black
Eeltail Catfish (Plotosus canius), Striped
Eeltail Catfish (Plotosus lineatus) Lim, Kelvin K.
P. & Jeffrey K. Y. Low, 1998. A
Guide to the Common Marine Fishes of Singapore. Singapore
Science Centre. 163 pp.
Plotosidae and Paraplotosus
(Whitelipped eel catfish) and Gray
eel-catfish (Plotosus canius) and Striped
eel-catfish (Plotosus lineatus) from FishBase:
Technical fact sheet on the order, including fact sheets.
of the cat: thousands of catfishes may be venomous on the
wild shores of singapore blog.
- 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,
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.
Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral
Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.