Goonch Catfish (Bagarius) ID and Care Guide 1.01

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A Guide to the Care and ID of Goonch Catfish (Bagarius) 1.01

1.01 update: Formatting for post migration ease of reading.


Table of Contents, Introduction & Acknowledgements

Table of Contents
NOTE: Click on the hyperlinks to go to that content.
Introduction, Acknowledgements & Suggested Reading
Quick ID Reference
B. bagarius (Highland Giant)
B. yarrelli (Lowland Giant)
Bagarius suchus
Bagarius rutilus
Bagarius cf. INDOCHINA (lica)
Bagarius cf. DWARF

References


Introduction
Greetings once again everyone!

This particular guide has been long coming and incredibly difficult in the making. I first decided to actually make this guide almost two years ago at the time of actually publishing it; November 2, 2014. It took me nearly three months of research before I even realized that at that time (early 2013), I could not make it based on the data that I had available to me. After a few months of research, I posted the Impossibility thread. After extensively researching this subject with the assistance of Matt (Estarego8), Julian Dignall and especially Doctor Hoek Hee Ng, progress was made and many things were learned. Through the haze of ambiguity, we were able to seek the clarity of truth and piece together something akin to what is actually going on with this genus. Without the help of those wonderful people who are listed above, this project would not have been possible.

Based on the guidance of Jools, no species is being given for the Indochina or Dwarf varieties. It is not clear at this point if the Indochina version is B. lica or B. nieuwenhuisii, or if indeed both of them are valid with lica living on the mainland and Sumatra and nieuwenhuisii living on Borneo and the Indonesian Archipelago. In this breakdown of the genus, the Dwarf doesn't have a properly designated and published name, so we are forced to call it simply the Dwarf.

You will all notice that I've left out the Care section that I've included in several of my other guides. That is because the wants and needs of these fish aren't academic yet. Their needs are something we don't have quite ironed out yet, and I don't want to have someone's dead fish on my hands. I've got the classification figured out, but there's still quite a bit of work to do in figuring out how to keep each of the six types alive!

It is my hope that this work will allow people to gain a better grasp of the of the genus Bagarius.​

Suggested Reading
 
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Quick reference guide

B. bagarius
has an often noticeably dorsolaterally compressed body, prominent wing-like strongly upturned posteriorly pectoral fins, a terminal or slightly subterminal mouth, round eyes, profile of frontals generally straight, poorly developed or absent stripes, numerous small spots, fins that match body color, and often a somewhat darker base color than B. yarrelli.​

B. yarrelli
has at most a slightly dorsolaterally compressed body, large somewhat posteriorly upturned pectoral fins, a terminal or slightly subterminal mouth, round eyes, profile of frontals generally straight, boldly developed dark stripes, no anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few small spots, fins that match body color, and a somewhat lighter base color than B. bagarius.​

B. rutilus
has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, profile of frontals generally straight but with a frontal crest that gives the impression of a rounded head profile when not viewed perfectly from the side, boldly developed dark stripes, often anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few small spots, orange or yellow fins after about 200mm, somewhat lighter base color than B. sp. ‘INDOCHINA’ and a somewhat richer orangey or rusty color than B. sp. ‘DWARF’.​

B. suchus
is unmistakable in the genus. Extremely dorsolaterally compressed with a series of ridges running down its back. It is from these ridges that it earned the name 'crocodile catfish'.​


B. sp. ‘INDOCHINA’
has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, frontals generally straight generally straight (frontals not examined), poorly developed or absent stripes, numerous large Dalmatian like spots occasionally forming large black splotches, fins that match body color but occasionally so heavily spotted as to appear black or nearly black, somewhat darker base color than B. rutilus.​

B. sp. ‘DWARF’
has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, frontal strongly turned ventrally slightly posterior to the insertion of the maxilla giving the head a truly rounded profile, boldly developed dark stripes, occasional anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few or no small spots, fins that match body color, light and sandy base color that is noticeably less richly pigmented when compared to B. rutilus.​

quick diagnostic.jpg
 

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Bagarius bagarius

bagarius.jpg
Bagarius bagarius, courtesy of ffish.asia

General Info
Bagarius bagarius, the Highland Giant, is the archetypal goonch in most people's mind. This is the species that was featured in the 2009 pilot episode of River Monsters with Jeremy Wade. These fish prefer cooler, highly oxygenated water and lots of flow that emulates it's native environment. Evidence in the hobby seems to indicate that these fish will become quite stressed and possibly die if kept in anything over roughly mid-70* temps.

There is confusion over the name of this species. This name was attributed to the dwarf variety in 1983 by Roberts in his revision of the genus. It is now becoming apparent after Ng et al that while there are significant morphological similarities between this variety and the dwarf, that the highland giant does in fact match Hamilton's original 1822 description of this species.​

Distribution
Hillstream water systems in the foothills of the Himalayas.​

Diagnostic Traits
Noticeably dorsolaterally compressed body, prominent wing-like strongly upturned posteriorly pectoral fins, a terminal or slightly subterminal mouth, round eyes, profile of frontals generally straight, poorly developed or absent stripes, numerous small spots, fins that match body color, and often a somewhat darker base color than B. yarrelli.​

Size
This species has the capacity to achieve truly enormous sizes. Jakub Vagner caught a specimen on the Ramganga River in India that weighed 191 pounds, 13 ounces.​

Jakub Vagner 191 pounds 13 oz Ramganga River India.png

In Tank Shot
bagarius in tank.jpg
Bagarius bagarius, courtesy Aw3s0m3
 
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Bagarius yarrelli

yarrelli.jpg
Bagarius yarrelli, courtesy of ffish.asia

General Info
Bagarius yarrelli, the Lowland Giant (LLG), is another huge species of goonch catfish. Unlike their HLG counterparts, these fish are found throughout Southeast Asia in large, warm rivers from India to Thailand. These fish can get just as large as the HLG and indeed, appear to grow somewhat faster.

This name was formerly applied to all huge goonch catfish after Roberts (1983). That scheme of speciation has been called into question, however based on significant morphological and ecological differences between the various, disparate specimens that were rolled up into this species. When Ng (2009) separated B. rutilus from B. yarrelli based on its morphology, it became fairly clear that the genus was in dire need of revision. While B. bagarius remains the senior synonym for the giant hillstream variety, it appears as though Roberts was correct in describing a giant species under the epithet of B. yarrelli. His inclusion of both types under the name was a mistake, but the validity of yarrelli stands with Roberts' decription matching the lowland variety of giant goonch catfish.​

Distribution
throughout Southeast Asia in large, warm rivers from India to Thailand.​

Diagnostic Traits
Has at most a slightly dorsolaterally compressed body, large somewhat posteriorly upturned pectoral fins, a terminal or slightly subterminal mouth, round eyes, profile of frontals generally straight, boldly developed dark stripes, no anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few small spots, fins that match body color, and a somewhat lighter base color than B. bagarius.​

Size
This species has the capacity to achieve truly enormous sizes. A huge specimen was caught on the Jamuna River in Bangladesh that weighed 231 pounds, 8 ounces.​

231 pounds 8 oz 79 inches Jamuna River Bangladesh.jpg

In Tank Shot
lowland giant.jpg
Bagarius yarrelli, courtesy Estarego8
 
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Bagarius suchus

[suchus.jpg
Bagarius suchus, courtesy of ffish.asia and edited by Chicxulub

General Info
Bagarius suchus was described in 1983 by Roberts and are very rare in the hobby. Only several dozen having made it to the States, though they are somewhat more common in Asia as that is their native range. These fish seem to do well in either tropical or temperate setups and are often found in the highest flow areas of their native streams. This is the most piscivorous member of the genus.​

Distribution
throughout Southeast Asia in rapids and tributaries.​

Diagnostic Traits
Unmistakable in the genus. Extremely dorsolaterally compressed with a series of ridges running down its back. It is from these ridges that it earned the name 'crocodile catfish'.​

Size
Normally less than 3' long. One of the few species suited to aquaria, though it should still have at least 300 gallons as an adult.​

In Tank Shot
suchus.jpg
Bagarius suchus, courtesy LiamIrons
 

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Bagarius rutilus

rutilus.jpg
Bagarius rutilus, courtesy of ffish.asia

General Info
Bagarius rutilus is the most recently described species in the genus, having only been described in 2009 by Dr. Hoek Hee Ng from what was formerly Bagarius yarrelli stock. This is a fairly attractive species, with bold stripes, saturated coloration and bright yellow or orange fins after about 8" in length. Many, if not most, of these fish being imported are still labeled as Bagarius yarrelli.​

Distribution
Throughout Southeast Asia in main river channels. Apparently absent from extreme southeast Thailand and Singapore.​

Diagnostic Traits
Has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, profile of frontals generally straight but with a frontal crest that gives the impression of a rounded head profile when not viewed perfectly from the side, boldly developed dark stripes, often anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few small spots, orange or yellow fins after about 200mm, somewhat lighter base color than B. sp. ‘INDOCHINA’ and a somewhat richer orangey or rusty color than B. sp. ‘DWARF’.​

Size
Normally less than 3' long. One of the few species suited to aquaria, though it should still have at least 300 gallons as an adult.​

In Tank Shot
Bagarius rutilus.jpg
Bagarius rutilus courtesy of Chicxulub
 

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Bagarius sp. 'INDOCHINA'

cf. INDOCHINA.jpg
Bagarius sp. 'INDOCHINA', courtesy of ffish.asia

General Info
Bagarius sp. 'INDOCHINA' is a morph from southeast Asia that is generally referred to as Bagarius yarrelli. This type was, before Roberts (1983), considered to be either one or two distinct species. It is now considered likely that this/these species are distinct from yarrelli based on morphology and allopatry. This/these fish are very similar in appearance and are quite possibly the same. The possibility of there being two different species or subspecies is distinctly possible, as the Indonesian variants are certainly much more heavily spotted than the mainland specimens of this variety. If they are the same, they would be known as Bagarius lica. If they are separate, the fish of this type found on the mainland and Sumatra would be Bagarius lica and those from Borneo and throughout the Indonesian Archipelago would be Bagarius nieuwenhuisii. Considerable hands-on examination of both types will be required to determine whether or not they are distinct from one another.​

Distribution
Southeast Thailand and Singapore through Bangkok and into Sumatra and the Indonesian Archipelago to at least Borneo.​

Diagnostic Traits
Has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, frontals generally straight generally straight (frontals not examined), poorly developed or absent stripes, numerous large Dalmatian like spots occasionally forming large black splotches, fins that match body color but occasionally so heavily spotted as to appear black or nearly black, somewhat darker base color than B. rutilus.​

Size
Maximum size is unclear, as adults of this species are reported as Bagarius yarrelli. It is likely that mainland fish are larger than B. rutilus but smaller than B. yarrelli. Specimens from Indonesia are likely a bit smaller.​

In Tank Shot
sp INDOCHINA in tank.jpg
Bagarius sp. 'INDOCHINA' courtesy LiamIrons
 
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Bagarius sp. 'DWARF'

cf. DWARF.jpg
Bagarius sp. 'dwarf', courtesy of ffish.asia

General Info
Bagarius sp. 'DWARF' was called Bagarius bagarius after Roberts (1983). This is now known to have been incorrect, as the coldwater hillstream giants from the Himalayan foothills match the original published data for Bagarius bagarius from Hamilton (1822). Since the name Bagarius bagarius is correctly applied to the highland giants, the use of that name for the dwarf variety is not valid, leaving the dwarfs nameless to science. Hence, for our purpose, they must be referred to as sp. 'DWARF'.​

Distribution
Southeast Asia, Mekong basin.​

Diagnostic Traits
Has a cylindrical body, pectoral fins slightly upturned posteriorly but proportionate to its body, inferior mouth, oval eyes, frontal strongly turned ventrally slightly posterior to the insertion of the maxilla giving the head a truly rounded profile, boldly developed dark stripes, occasional anterior darkening similar to the color of the stripes, few or no small spots, fins that match body color, light and sandy base color that is noticeably less richly pigmented when compared to B. rutilus.​

Size
Apparently no more than 8".​

In Tank Shot
dwarf goonch.jpg
Bagarius sp. 'DWARF', courtesy Estarego8
 
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Ng, H. & Kottelat, M. (2000). Descriptions of three new species of catfishes
(Teleostei: Akysidae and Sisoridae) from Laos and Vietnam. Journal of South Asian Natural History 5 (1): 7-15.

Ng, H. (2013). Personal correspondence.

Popta , C. (1904) Preliminary descriptions of new species of fish collected in central Borneo by Mr. Dr. AW Nieuwenhuis in 1898 and 1900. Notes from the Leyden Museum (24): 179-202 .

Roberts, T. (1983). Revision of the South and Southeast Asian Sisorid Catfish Genus Bagarius , with Description of a New Species from the Mekong. Copeia, 1983 (2): 435-445.

Roberts, T. (1989). The freshwater fishes of western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia). Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences No. 14 (1-7) 1-210.

Volz, W. (1903). New Fish from Sumatra. Zoological Gazette, 26 (703): 553-559.

Volz, W. (1903). Fish of Sumatra. Zoological Annuals. Department for Systematic, Geography and Biology of the Animals (Jena), 19: 347-419.

Yeamin, M. (2009). New Maximum Size Record for the Goonch Bagarius yarrelli (Sykes 1839) (Siluriformes: Sisoridae) from the Ganges River, Sains Malaysiana 39(2): 157-159
 

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Now that PCF has also decided to use this breakdown, it gives me great pleasure to move this thread from the mod section to Catfish and to say

BUMP :D
 
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