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Fish of the Month
Issue: May 2005

Plotosus lineatus

THUNBERG, 1787


Serg_Dibrova/Shutterstock

Common Names: Coral catfish, eel catfish, striped eel catfish, eel-tailed catfish

Type Locality: Indian Ocean

Range: Extremely widespread in the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea and East Africa east to Samoa, north to Japan, and south to Australia. Amphidromous, it sometimes enters the fresh waters of East Africa (Lake Malawi) and Madagascar

Taxonomic Troubles: Originally described as Silurus lineatus

Size: 32 cm (12 inches) TL

Preferred Water Chemistry: Tropical marine, brackish

Difficulty: Hardy, but it must be kept in schools, and it does get a foot long. Its fin spines are highly venemous, and human envenomation has on occasion proven fatal.

Tank Setup: A large tank is needed for these heavy-feeding, schooling predators. Filtration and water changes should also be large.

Feeding: Will take any meaty foods of appropriate size, including tankmates small enough to swallow.

Breeding: Contradictory reports exist. No successful home aquarium spawnings are reported.

Description: As the only coral reef catfish species, and an attractive and fascinating one at that, this fish is popular and readily available.  They are, however, venomous creatures.  And, as with many marines, the tiny gorgeous and interesting juveniles grow into great big drab and boring adults.
Ball-shaped aggregations of juveniles number about 100 in the wild, and even only a handful of individuals in an aquarium will constantly roam the bottom of the tank, each trying desperately to get into the middle fo the group.  This makes an unforgettable display. 
Unfortunately, as the fish mature, their bright contrasting striping fades, as does their attraction to each other.  Adults tend to hide under ledges.  They also get a bit territorial, so a very large tank is required to maintain a small group of adults.
Thus, this is one of those fish that is much more popular than it should be.  It can be a valid candidate for a large marine tank, but it isn't another clownfish or tang, and it requires careful thought and planning on the part of the hobbyist before purchase.

Notes: Danger! Handling these fish is extremely dangerous. Their sting is excruciatingly painful and potentially lethal. Aquarists have been envenomated even using nets. If you are stung, place the wound in water as hot as you can stand--heat breaks down the proteinaceous venom--and seek medical help. Handle and maintain these animals only with extreme caution.

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