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Guide to the fish species of Southern Africa

Sharptooth Catfish - Clarias gariepinus
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  

The sharptooth catfish is second in size only to the vundu of the Zambesian waters, making it the biggest freshwater fish in South Africa itself.

Other names: Afrikaans -- Skerptand-baber :

Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

This fish has four pairs of long trailing sensory organs, known as 'barbels', around its mouth, which look similar to cats whiskers, hence the name 'catfish'. The body of the sharptooth catfish is elongated, with long, low dorsal and anal fins and a smoothly rounded tail fin, and the body has no scales.

The small eyes of the sharptooth catfish are set far forward in the flat and bony head, while at the back of the head there is a subsidiary breathing organ above the gills, that allows the sharptooth catfish to take in oxygen directly from the air. This allows the sharptooth catfish to survive in even shallow and poorly oxygenated pools, and sharptooth catfish have even been known to travel short distances overland by wriggling through grass wet with dew, to reach otherwise inaccessible stretches of water.

The sharptooth catfish has a small but strong pectoral fin, set immediately in front of the anal fin, which has a serrated spine, and this assists it to maneuver itself over the ground. This fish belongs to the scavenger species of freshwater fish, and will feed on fish, crabs, frogs, snails, snakes, plants and insects, and even small birds are not safe. The larger specimens of sharptooth catfish are often cannibalistic, feeding on the young of their own species.

Interesting facts about Sharptooth Catfish statistics / bio:

Diet: The sharptooth catfish feed on fish, crabs, frogs, snails, snakes, plants and insects, and small birds

Reproduction (Breeding): Breeding of the sharptooth catfish takes place in very shallow, weedy waters, normally after heavy summer rains, and usually once the fish have migrated upstream, and sometimes in the shallows of lakes. The tiny fertilised eggs of the sharptooth catfish hatch out within one and a half days of them being attached to plants and debris in the water.

Distribution (Range): Other than the southern Cape, the Karoo and parts of the Transkei, the sharptooth catfish is found extensively in throughout southern Africa.

Size: Although the average weight of the sharptooth catfish is in the region of 1,5 kg, these fish can reach a massive 29 kg.

Colour: The flanks of the sharptooth catfish is coloured a uniform grey to olive-yellow, with a dark slate or greenish brown back. The underparts are white or pale olive and are mottled irregularly with dark brownish green, or uniformly silvery olive. The clarity of the water is a factor to the colour variations.

Most like: The sharptooth catfish are similar to the blunt-tooth catfish -- Clarias ngamensis -- the difference being that these have a short, fleshy fin at the base of the tail which is absent in the sharptooth catfish.

Habitat: The sharptooth catfish. are found in rivers, lakes and swamps, and in shallow waters during the breeding season.

Best places to see the Sharptooth Catfish in Southern Africa:

 • Kruger National Park

Fishes of Southern Africa    >> Printable Freshwater Fish List <<  
South African Fish Species    >> Printable Freshwater Fish List <<
Wildlife - Fauna & Flora of Southern Africa

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Learn more about the Sharptooth Catfish - Clarias gariepinus with Wildlife Campus. Course content includes amazing facts about Sharptooth Catfish habitat, distribution, ecology...

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Southern Africa has many top Game / Nature Reserves, and is home to many of the mammals of southern Africa. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to Southern Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in Southern Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
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