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Spotted Raphael Catfish

Spotted Talking Catfish, White Spotted Doradid

Family: Doradidae Spotted Raphael Catfish, Agamyxis pectinifrons, Spotted Talking CatfishAgamyxis pectinifronsPhoto Wiki Commons, couresty Pit one. Licensed under Public Domain
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My Spotted Raphael Catfish are, as of October 2012, 27 years old. The next one is 24 and the youngest one is now 19 years old. I find most web sites say 'your lucky... (more)  Simone Konieczny

The Spotted Raphael Catfish makes a croaking or clicking noise when you take it out of the aquarium!

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 Catfish Platydorus 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!

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

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Geographic Distribution
Agamyxis pectinifrons
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Doradidae
  • Genus: Agamyxis
  • Species: pectinifrons
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Spotted Raphael Catfish - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 35 gal (132 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

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 Catfish Platydorus 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

Description

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, and have a lifespan of about 10 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.

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.

Aquarium Care

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.

Aquarium Setup

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.

Spotted Raphael Catfish, Agamyxis pectinifrons
Spotted Raphael Catfish Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

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
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Weak
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

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.
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • 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.
    • Plants: Safe

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

Fish Diseases

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.

Availability

The Spotted Raphael Catfish, also commonly called the Spotted Talking Catfish, is readily available at pet stores and online, and is reasonable in price.

References

Author: David Brough CFS, Clarice Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
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Lastest Animal Stories on Spotted Raphael Catfish


Simone Konieczny - 2013-02-16
My Spotted Raphael Catfish are, as of October 2012, 27 years old. The next one is 24 and the youngest one is now 19 years old. I find most web sites say 'your lucky if they live past 7 years'. Apparently that cannot be normal except if the fish aren't well looked after. I got all 3 fish from different sources at less than one inch in size so it cannot just be a fluke that mine are the ages they are. If anyone else has the same breed and older than 20 years (the fish), I'd love to hear about them. Thanks. Simone🐟

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2013-02-16
    Wow, those are really long-lived fish! I don't have any personal experience keeping them, but I would like to hear if anyone else has had a similar experience.
  • Riley Krout - 2013-09-02
    I have one in my 5 Gallon Grow out tank, it`s like 1.9-2 inchs. He wont leave the rocks... I`ve only seen him out once one night. I have a question though, can someone tell me how to get it active?
  • Clarice Brough - 2013-09-02
    Those are some long lived catfish Simone. We have an upside down cat that has been living with a peacock eel for about 17 years, so it must be if they're well kept, they live long. And Riley, these guys are nocturnal, so nighttime activity is what they mostly do. Maybe get a red bulb (from the reptile section of a pet store) to watch your tank at night.
  • Geoff - 2013-09-12
    I purschased my spotted catfish in 1994 - and he is still going strong!
  • Gary Wolz - 2013-12-15
    My husband has a spotted cat that is 23 years old. He moved across town with us in the aquarium in about an inch of water 22 years ago. Cloaking the whole time. He is now as round as he is long. He has outgrown his hiding place several times over the years and my husband has to rearrange the rocks to fit him. People don't believe us when we tell them he is older than our daughter.
  • Jade Rose - 2013-12-23
    Hello, we have a catfish, spotted Raphael, she's around 34 years old, my dad has had her since he was a young teen, she hardly comes out of her log, unless its for food,  she's around 5-6 inches long and around 2inches or so wide
  • Tony - 2014-06-29
    My Spotted Raphael Catfish is almost 19 years old now. His name is Clod because of the way he bubbles around. Just like everyone else has said, he really comes out of his cave. That is till today. I bought a few new fish to replace one's that live past their normal expectancy. One of those fish is a small pleco. Clod didn't seem happy when his cave was invaded and swam out to settle on top. To my amazement the pleco started cleaning Clod. When he was done and swam away Clod scurried right back into his cave.
Reply
Candy - 2009-06-05
I had a similar experience as Freddie - My husband and I were moving and I cleaned out the fish tank and put all of my fish into a huge tote to transport them to our new house. I had a pyramid in my tank at the time and I forgot about my spotted (I never saw him eat EVER and I would only see him if i had the tank light off - he would come out of hiding.) I put all of my decorations into a garbage bag and my grandparents drve everything to my new house in their van. I started setting up the tank and had it filled aobut half way and I was cleaning off the plants a bit. I moved my plants and in the bottom of the bag was my spotted! I panicked a little bit but he had enough water in the bottom of the bag he survived and is at his 3rd home now! (I moved across the country and had to leave my fish with my parents) LOL! It was a crazy story I had to share!

  • Anonymous - 2014-02-05
    That's awesome
Reply
Don - 2003-11-09
The Spotted Raphael is one of the heartiest fish I have ever owned next to my cichlids ( jack dempseys).. in the sense of survival.. other than that very friendly... gets along fine with two fiddler crabs they mind one anothers business... and not picky when it comes to finding food... good strong fish for a community... ( bit of a cave dweller )

  • Kathy Keegan - 2013-11-13
    I had raphaels for years. I can remember having a real monster tank, 5 oscars, an armatus spiny eel, at least 2 feet long, a clown knife, about 14 inches, an 18 inch black ghost, 2 6 inch striped raphaels, 2 5 inch spotted raphaels, a 12 inch tiger shovelnose catfish, a couple of 10 inch plecos, 5 spotted silver dollars, and, for some reason, 1 5 inch swordtail female that managed to survive by being so mean nothing went near her. She was supposed to be a feeder, but even the shovelnose was scared of her, and that is saying something. Everything in a 110 gallon with rockwork for everything to dodge around when the occasional argument broke out. The raphaels came out at night and at feeding time. I fed feeders, algae tablets, meat tablets and scalded spinach. I grew the oscars from 1 inch size to 2 breeder 10 inch pairs and a 12 inch single. I actually found that armatus eel at a Woolworth store. He was about 5 inches at the time, really just a baby. He would come up and rub against a finger by the time he got big.
Reply
Brittany - 2013-03-06
I have had my Rapheal catfish for two years now and I am still bewildered to why he likes to swim the tank upside down and not right side up. Can anyone tell me why he prefers to swim upside down?

  • Jeremy Roche - 2013-03-06
    That is pretty common for them to do.  Many swim sideways, upside down and of course right side up.
Reply