Sun catfish, Horabagrus brachysoma


Until recently, Horabagrus used to be hard to find in the shops. But, as Matt Clarke explains, in the past two years, two different species have suddenly hit the market.

Common name: Sun catfish, Gold spotted Thai cat, Gunther's catfish
Scientific name: Horabagrus brachysoma
Pronounced: Hor-ah-bag-russ brak-eye-soh-mer
Origin: Found in swamps, boggy pools, lakes and the backwaters of rivers in Kerala, Canara and Malabar, southern India.
Size: There's an error in the Baesch Atlas regarding the size of this fish, which incorrectly claims a maximum size of about 13cm/5". This has lead people (including dealers) to believe this is a small species. It isn't. Museum records show that H. brachysoma can in fact hit 45cm/18", although 30cm/12" is more common in the aquarium.
Water: Records for other fish from this region suggest a pH of around 6.0-7.5; with low to moderate hardness, and a temperature of about 26C. However, this is a tough and adaptable catfish and does well in hard, alkaline water too.
Diet: A predator which prefers to eat fish, but also takes most chunky frozen foods, and often pellets.
Aquarium: Although some shops are mistakenly selling this as a community fish, it really isn't to be trusted alongside small fishes. Small ones aren't much of a problem alongside equal sized fishes, but the species is capable of eating anything it can fit in its mouth. It can be relatively shy during day, so provide plenty of shelter in the tank to allow it to hide. It mixes well with other large peaceful fishes, such as big barbs and cichlids. It can also usually be kept in groups without too many problems, indeed it may be a shoaling fish when young. However, the larger ones I've kept became less willing to share their tank with others the bigger they grew. For three or four juveniles or subadults, you'll need a tank of at least 120x45x45cm/48"x18"x18", ideally a bit bigger. Unfortunately, the colours don't stay quite as bright as the fish get bigger.
Notes: This species, which was described by Gunther way back in 1864, is named after the famous ichthyologist Hora who worked on many freshwater fishes in India and headed the Zoological Survey.
Similar species: There is one other species in the genus Horabagrus, H. nigricollaris, which is also available in the shops. The two are fairly simple to tell apart. H. brachysoma has a prominent black spot just behind the base of the pectoral fin, while nigricollaris has a black saddle with a white trailing border just in front of the dorsal fin.
Availability: This once rarely seen fish has become very common in the past couple of years and can now be picked up very cheaply. Like nigricollaris, large numbers are now farmed for the food trade, with the young being sold on to fishkeepers.
Price: From as little as a few quid for a baby, but more for an adult.