The Clown catfish, Gagata cenia

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Matt Clarke looks at Gagata cenia, an interesting catfish from the cool highland waters of Asia.

Common name: Clown catfish

Scientific name: Gagata cenia

Origin: Quite widespread in Asia, having been recorded in the Ganges, Indus and Mahanadi basins in India, and in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. There are some reports of this species in Thailand and Myanmar. However, these may actually be a related species.

Water: Soft, slightly acidic water is recommended, but the species may also enter brackish areas. Either way, the water should be comparatively cool (20-24C/68-75F), and well oxygenated.

Size: Up to 15cm/6", usually much smaller in the aquarium. Said to be sexually mature at 7cm/2.5".

Diet: These fish have specially adapted dentition to feed on organisms found in bottom detritus. Many Gagata are naturally slender, but avoid fish which are emaciated. Some newly imported specimens may not feed initially and become skinny after import. Try offering live or frozen bloodworm and brineshrimp rather than flakes.

Aquarium: This fish seems to prefer the company of its own kind, so keep it in a small group in the aquarium. It is found in running water, so some water movement is essential. It also helps to boost oxygen levels.

Notes: Although this is one of the most common sisorids, it's still a tricky fish to keep. It doesn't travel well and like other sisorids, it demands clean, well-oxygenated water. New fish often succumb to disease or die after importation. Certainly not for the inexperienced.

Identification: G. cenia can be distinguished from other Gagata on the basis of the following characters: snout longer than eye; head 3.6-4.0 of standard length; 13-15 anal fin rays (4-5 simple, 9-11 branched); five (often indistinct) bands on the dorsal surface.

Similar species: There are about seven other species including G. dolichonema, G. gasawyuh, G. itchkeea, G. melanopterus, G. sexualis, G. youssoufi and G. viridescens. G. gasawyuh is quite similar to cenia and has apparently recently turned up in imports from Myanmar. It can be distinguished by the presence of only four bands on the body.

Availability: These fish were photographed at the wholesaler Israquarium, who imported them from India.

Price: Expect to pay 7-8.50 for a 5cm/2" fish.