The Spotted Raphael Catfish Agamyxis pectinifrons is a very pretty fish. The body is a dark brown to blackish color adorned with an irregular pattern of small spots that can range from brilliant white to pale yellow. The fins are dark too, with both spots and stripes that may run together forming crosswise bars. This striking white-on-black patterning makes it very attractive and desirable, yet no two look fish look exactly the same!
This fish is a member of the Doradidae family. Due to its spotted appearance and its ability to vocalize it's also commonly known as the Spotted Talking Catfish. It will produces sounds, "croaks" or "clicks," by rubbing its pectoral fins across grooves in the shoulder, usually heard when removing it from its tank. A few other descriptive common names it is known by include White Spotted Talking Catfish, White Spotted Doradid, White-spot Dorydid, Talking Catfish, and Thorny Catfish.
The Doradidae family as a group is known as Thorny Catfish, which is actually a very appropriate descriptive name. They are tough skinned catfish with a well-developed nuchal shield in front of the dorsal fin and bony lumps, forming thorny scutes, along the lateral line. This family is also called "talking catfish" because they can produce audible sounds by rotating their pectoral spines in their sockets. This particular Doradid catfish is also one of the "Rafael Catfish". Another well known Rafael is the Striped Raphael Catfish or Southern Striped Raphael CatfishPlatydorus armatulus, which until 2008 was mis-identified as Platydoras costatus.
The Spotted Raphael Catfish is very hardy and tolerant of most water conditions. It makes a great choice for a beginner or any other aquarist. Being nocturnal, it is a bit shy and will look for a nice comfortable hiding place during the day. Like the Raphael Catfish, it likes to burrow in the soft river bottom in the wild, so provide a corner of fine gravel or sand. They also like to wedge themselves into tight spaces, so some hiding places in the hollows of roots or driftwood are appreciated.
They will not harm plants, in fact some floating plant cover will help keep the tank dimly lit, which keeps them happy. If plants are provided, as juveniles they will spend their day in the vegetation. They will start to come out in the evening as it gets dark, to scavenge along the bottom of the tank for tasty morsels. To get the best viewing of these fish, you can add some Moonlight LED's to the tank and watch this little cleaner come to life.
The Spotted Raphael is a peaceful catfish and does well in a community aquarium. Its an excellent companion with most other medium to large fish, only very small fish may get snacked on. With its armored thorny protection it can even be kept with more aggressive tankmates. South and Central American cichlids, larger characins, Pimelodus, and Trichogaster are all good choices. It can be kept singly, but in the wild this is a gregarious species, and a group of 4 or more can be happily kept in a good sized aquarium. It will also school with similar looking catfish relatives.
Thorny Catfish have a strong first spine on their pectoral fins, which can be used as a defensive weapon. They tend to stick out these side spines out in a very rigid manner, especially when stressed. To catch them it's best to use a glass container or plastic bag as these spines can easily get caught in a net. Trying to get them untangled is not only stressful, but a bit dangerous. A prick from the spines of this fish is quite painful!
The Spotted Raphael Catfish Agamyxis pectinifrons was described by Cope in 1870. They are found in the Amazon basin, occurring in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. They are not listed on the UCN Red List of Endangered species. Other common names they are known by are Spotted Talking Catfish, White Spotted Talking Catfish, White Spotted Doradid, White-spot Dorydid, Talking Catfish, and Thorny Catfish.
It is one of the "Rafael Catfish". Other Rafael's include three almost identical striped species with each originating from different localities, the Raphael catfish Platydoras costatus, the Striped Raphael Catfish or Southern Striped Raphael CatfishPlatydorus armatulus (which until 2008 was mis-identified as Platydoras costatus), and the Longnose Rafael or Long Nosed Raphael Catfish Orinocodoras eigenmanni. The Long Nosed variety is differentiated by a slightly longer snout.
It belongs to the Doradidae family, which are known as Thorny Catfish. These are tough skinned catfish with a well-developed nuchal shield in front of the dorsal fin and bony lumps, forming thorny scutes, along the lateral line. This family is also called "talking catfish" because they can produce audible sounds by rotating their pectoral spines in their sockets. The Doradidae family is by no means the only types of catfish that can make vocalizations, the Squeaker Catfish of the Mochokidae family are also noted as being very vocal.
Some others Doradid's called "talking catfish" include the Spiny Catfish Acanthodoras spinosissimus. Unlike the Spotted Talking Catfish, it is not suitable for a community aquarium as it will eat smaller fish. Another is the Painted Talking Catfish Acanthodoras cataphrectus. This is a very pretty with an almost paisley type design in its patterning, and it is also a very peaceful fish that does well in a community aquarium.
Spotted Raphael Catfish are found in a variety of habitats but seem to be most comfortable in slow to still moving water with a lot of plants and roots for concealment . During the rainy season these fish will normally migrate into the flooded food rich forests. In the wild they feed on crustaceans, worms, insects, and plant matter.
They are gregarious in nature and will school with their own kind and with other similar-looking relatives like the Raphael Catfish Platydoras armatulus, Spiny Catfish Acanthodoras spinosissimus, and Blue-eye catfish or Longnose Dora Platydoras hancockii.
Scientific Name: Agamyxis pectinifrons
Social Grouping: Groups - They are gregarious in nature and will school with their own kind and with other similar-looking relatives.
IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed
The Spotted Raphael Catfish have a cylindrical, arrow-shaped body with a flattened belly. Females are more full bodied than males. They can reach up to 5.9 inches (15 cm) in length. They are known to have a lifespan of about 10 years, however hobbyists have reported them living up to 15 to 20 years.
These catfish have a large head with small eyes. The mouth is large and there are three pairs of barbels, one on the upper jaw and two on the lower. As with all in its genus, they are tough skinned catfish with a well-developed nuchal shield in front of the dorsal fin. Bony bony lumps form thorny scutes along the lateral line.
The dorsal fin stands erect and they have a strong first spine on their pectoral fins. They are called "talking catfish" because they have the ability to produce audible sounds by rubbing their pectoral fins across grooves in the shoulder. This sound is amplified by the swim bladder. Croaks or clicks will often be heard when removing them from their tank.
The pectoral spines can be extended out to the side in a very rigid manner and be used as a defensive weapon. These spines can easily become entangled in a net. Untangling them is stressful to the fish and a bit dangerous for the keeper, as a prick from these spines can be quite painful.
The body color is a dark brown to bluish-black with an irregular pattern of small spots that can range from brilliant white to pale yellow. The fins are dark too, with both spots and stripes that may run together forming crosswise bars. Their bellies are normally lighter in color with similar spots. As these catfish age they become more of a solid darker color with a white underside. No two look fish look exactly the alike.
A species that's very similar in appearance is its close relative, the Spiny catfish Agamyxis albomaculatus. In fact these two are so similar in looks that to distinguish them, you need to know where they are collected. The Spotted Raphael is from the Amazon Basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, while the Spiny Catfish has a very restricted occurrence, known only from the Río Orinoco drainage in Venezuela.
Size of fish - inches: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
Lifespan: 10 years - They have an average lifespan of 10 years, however in captivity they have been known to live as much as 15 to 20 years.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
The Spotted Raphael Catfish is fairly hardy, making it a great choice for a beginning fish keeper. They are fairly small and and not very picky about what they eat. These are bottom scavengers that do a great job cleaning the tank.
Their water requirements are very easy to meet and their temperament is of a peaceful nature, making them good community fish. There is not usually much of a need to upgrade to a bigger tank as much as it is with some of the larger catfish, unless you want to increase the number of fish you're keeping. They do have sharp spines on the dorsal fins and so should be transported using a glass or plastic container rather than a net.
Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner - This is a great first catfish.
Foods and Feeding
The Spotted Raphael Catfish are omnivores and not fussy terms of feeding. In the wild they will feed on a variety of crustaceans, worms, insects, and plant matter. They are bottom feeders, and In the aquarium they will eat any food that reaches them. Feed them daily, being nocturnal they prefer to be fed right before or after the lights are turned off on the aquarium.
To keep a good balance give them high quality sinking pellets everyday, along with freeze-dried bloodworms and tubifex. They will also eat all kinds of live, frozen, and prepared foods, including flakes, that have sunk to the bottom. Protein foods are important for them, so the occasional whole or chopped earthworm is good as a regular treat. They will eat snails, so can be employed to clean up a snail overpopulation, as long as the aquarium's conditions are suitable for this fish.
Diet Type: Omnivore - They do eat some plant matter in the wild, but protein is the main staple of their diet.
Flake Food: Yes - They will eat any foods that reach the bottom of the aquarium.
Tablet / Pellet: Yes
Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
Meaty Food: Most of Diet
Feeding Frequency: Daily - This fish is nocturnal and prefers to be fed right before or after lights out in the aquarium.
These are hardy fish that tolerate most water conditions. In the wild the shallow flood waters of its homeland can cool off drastically at night, and they then tolerate temperatures as low as to 15° C for a short period. But extremes should be avoided in the aquarium to avoid stress and illness.
They are very low maintenance and their tank only requires water changes of 30% a month. There really isn't much that needs to be done for the easy going catfish. This is one of the catfish that have sharp spines not only on the dorsal fins but on the pectoral fin as well. It is better to capture them in a glass or plastic container for transport.
Water Changes: Monthly - These low maintenance fish only require water changes of 30% a month.
The Spotted Raphael Catfish are moderately sized fish. They need a minimum sized tank of 35 gallons, with 45 gallons or more being better. They tend to be nocturnal, getting most active in the evening and nighttime when they come out to scavenge for food. They may seem shy during the day, spending much of their time hiding, but once they are comfortable they will come out for a swim around. As with most catfish they enjoy well oxygenated waters and this can be accomplished using an undergravel filter and a powerhead. They prefer slightly acid water with low hardness.
Provide a dimly lit setup with hiding places. Plants, twisted roots, and driftwood are the best decor. They will not harm plants and will appreciate some in floating cover as well, to help reduce the light. When young they tend to hide in dense vegetation, but they also like to wedge themselves into tight crevices and to burrow. Provide a sandy or fine gravel bottom with at least one corner without plants.
Minimum Tank Size: 35 gal (132 L) - A 35 gallon tank is minimum, but 45 gallons or more is better, especially for a larger community.
Suitable for Nano Tank: No
Substrate Type: Sand - Sand or fine gravel that will allow this fish to burrow.
Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
Range ph: 5.8-7.5
Hardness Range: 2 - 20 dGH
Water Movement: Weak
Water Region: Bottom
The Spotted Raphael Catfish are peaceful bottom scavengers. They are a good community fish and are friendly with other medium to large community tank mates, avoid fish that are so small they could be considered food. They can be kept singly, but they have a gregarious nature and enjoy being in groups of 4 or more. They will also school with similar looking catfish relatives. With its armored thorny protection it usually be kept with more aggressive tankmates. South and Central American cichlids, larger characins, Pimelodus, and Trichogaster are all good choices.
Venomous: No - Although not venomous, the Spotted Raphael Catfish is armed with a set of spines sharp enough to do damage to the aquarists hand.
Same species - conspecifics: Yes - This fish is gregarious and enjoys the company of its own kind, keeping 4 or more is recommended.
Peaceful fish (): Safe
Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
Aggressive (): Monitor
Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor - Can usually be kept with semi-aggressive and even aggressive fish such as cichlids.
Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - is aggressive - The Raphael Catfish are sometimes used to rid an aquarium of snails.
Sex: Sexual differences
Mature females tend to be noticeably plumper then the males.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Spotted Raphael Catfish has rarely been bred in captivity other than artificially with the use of hormones. Some spawning success has said to have happened, but reported as being accidental and there is little information is available.
It is believed that they may be a bubble nest builders in nature, with eggs laid among floating plants. It has been reported that other species of small Doradidae could be called nest builders. In the tank they may gather up general debris or find an area with old leaf litter and tidbits of wood, and try to hide beneath it. Then other fish of the same species will tend to swim around this "nest." But whether they had a successful spawn has not been reported. For information on the breeding of catfish in the aquarium, see: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Catfish.
Ease of Breeding: Unknown
The Spotted Raphael Catfish are fairly hardy when mature, but are subject to the same diseases as other tropical fish. Disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium and these catfish are very resilient. The most common problem that happens to this fish are injuries from netting and transportation. Take great caution when catching and removing this fish. High nitrate levels can also cause these catfish to develop infected barbels; this makes it difficult for them to navigate and eat normally. Maintain nitrate levels below 20 ppm through regular water changes.
Because they are a scaleless fish, catfish can be treated with pimafix or melafix but should not be treated with potassium permanganate or copper based medications. Malachite green or formalin can be used at one half to one fourth the recommended dosage. Take care when treating disease as the Synodontis Ocellifer is extremely sensitive to medications.
The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease. Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to add new diseases to the tank. For information about fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Spotted Raphael Catfish, also commonly called the Spotted Talking Catfish, is readily available at pet stores and online, and is reasonable in price.
Elaine - 2016-12-31 I have a Raphael and he is indeed my favorite fish. Believe it or not, I have had him for more than 30 years!! I bought him as a tiny baby about 1980. He has outlived all other tankmates and even a disasterous event that killed every other fish in the tank for an unknown reason. He is quite large and loves to hide in a cave all the time. Does anyone know how long these fish live?
Dan Mickelson - 2006-12-26 I've had a spotted raphael for 18 years, a high school friend had him for at least two years prior to giving him to me. I gave my community tank to my brother when I went away to college. All his fish died except for the raphael. He then gave him to a neighbor who had a large cichlid tank. The neighbors fish all died except for the raphael. By this time I had moved back to the area and took the fish back. He's been doing great ever since. There have been a few times when I was moving him that I thought he was dead, since he did not swim or move at all, and he just layed upside down at the bottom of the bucket. Seems like he was in some kind of suspended animation. This is my favorite fish, even though he doesn't move much during the day. He's had hundreds of tank mates over the last two decades and he's outlasted them all.
Dan Mickelson - 2015-04-08 Update, 9 years later and my spotted Raphael is still going strong. He is at least 27 years old now. He still perks up whenever I drop food in the tank and he seems as healthy as ever. It's amazing that an aquarium fish can live this long.
Jessica Cammarata - 2016-11-10 Wow, I love this! I especially love the update! I just got my first spotted Raphael which I have wanted for so long now! I can only hope I have him as long as you have yours!
Nikki - 2016-07-21 I have one of these spotted raphael catfish. I never knew what he was until this evening after searching online. I've had him for ten or more years. We've always called him the screamer because he would screw when taken out of the water. Anyway, this guy, or girl?, has literally lived it's entire life inside a ceramic hide. It would grow too fat to get out, we'd break it out eventually and it would go into another one. It's never swam around. The other dy we broke him out again and made sure there wasn't anything else for him to get stuck in. I'm interested to see if he starts to swim around finally. He is currently snug between some rocks. He can definitely get out though if he wants.
Seth Peterson - 2016-07-13 Hi community! My Spotted Raphael was purchased in Chico CA when I was a whole three years old. She's still doing strong to this day, which surprised be at first, considering I'm currently 22 and I've moved states twice.
Knowing nothing about keeping a fish, I kept her in a 20 gallon tank her whole life with a log in the back, with enough room to enter/exit from either side. She's roughly four and a half inches long and very fat.
She's extremely social, has never attacked my water snails or clams (large invasive canal snails/clams), and always, without fail, eats anything I drop next to her log- even during the day. She's currently 20 years old and stil going strong.
I really think it's due time the article be updated to show they live at least an average of 15/20 years, considering the other comments I've read. Anyway they're amazing fish, and having read the comments and article, I'll be upgrading to a 45 gallon tank and attempt to find another Spotted Raphael for her to be friends with.
Clarice Brough - 2016-07-26 Thank you for your story, and the great info. We have updated the article to include the longer lifespan that is possible in captivity.