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Related FAQs: Pangasiid Catfishes 1Pangasiid Catfishes 2, & FAQs on: Pangasiid Catfishes Identification, Pangasiid Catfishes Behavior, Pangasiid Catfishes Compatibility, Pangasiid Catfishes Stocking/Selection, Pangasiid Catfishes Systems, Pangasiid Catfishes Feeding, Pangasiid Catfishes Disease/Health, Pangasiid Catfishes Reproduction, Related Catfish FAQs: Identification, Behavior, Compatibility, Selection, Systems, Feeding, Disease, ReproductionMinnow Sharks 1,

Related Articles: Catfishes

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

The (Iridescent/ID) Shark or Eat-em Up Catfishes of the Family Pangasiidae

By Bob Fenner

Di and a big boy at the Wilhelma Aquarium in Stuttgart, Germany

    Science terms the 2 genera and 27 described species of Pangasiid cats the "Shark" catfishes, but I like the common name "Eat-em Up" for the oh-so-many times hobbyists have bought "those cute little active fishes" only to have them suck up most all their other livestock (mainly by night). Two species, Pangasius gigas and P. sanitwongsei attain... 3 meters in length... Yes, nine and a half feet and some 300 kilograms in weight!

    The family is typified by having generally two pair of barbels, 1 set on the chin none on the nasal, compressed (laterally) bodies, a single anterior-placed dorsal fin with 1 o2 spines, 5-7 soft rays, a small adipose and separate caudal fin. These are entirely freshwater species.


    Though they may start small, the pangasiids seen in the trade are active metabolically and behaviorally... they need SPACE! Be forewarned that if you feed yours to satiation regularly it will GROW, and I mean really grow quickly and to large proportions (see below). These are fishes ultimately for large systems (hundreds plus gallons of water) with over-size filtration and circulation to match.

    Decor should be kept to a minimum as these fishes actively dart about, continuously... and are apt to damage themselves if not provided free board to move about and make rapid turns... and not "get stuck in corners". Rounded rocks should be either piled carefully along the back and corners to disallow fish from getting stuck, or if the tank is wide enough, assembled in the middle to allow the fish to swim about "Roman theatre" fashion. On the same subject of self-damage we'll mention the need for relative calm inside and outside their system. Do provide outside lighting ahead of inside lights coming on, going off, and a wide visual view outside their tank to prevent spooking these cats.

    Pangasiid catfishes are aerial respirators, so do expect to see these cats going to the surface to gulp air a few times per hour. Due to this behavior, tanks containing these cats need to be fully covered and ones containing large individuals either secured or weighted to prevent their jumping.

    Water conditions are not particular for these fishes. Tropical temperatures in the mid seventies to low eighties F. A near neutral pH, moderate hardness... and regular water changes are sufficient for pangasiids all around.


    First off, the good news, these are social species that should be kept in small schools, not solitarily. They are far from quarrelsome with their own kind. Now the bad news, Pangasiid catfishes will gladly consume any and all tankmates that they can fit in their capacious maws, and should be trusted with nothing that qualifies. Roustabout cichlids, large Gouramis (like Osphronemus...), "native fishes"... are suitable tankmates. Remember, they are called "sharks" for more than their beautiful semblance to cartilaginous fishes. They won't bite/tear chunks off of other livestock, but do have a nasty habit of inhaling them over time with growth.

Species You're Likely To Meet: One

Pangasius hypophthalmus (formerly sutchi) (Sauvage 1878), the Pangasius or Sutchi Catfish or Iridescent, Asian, Mystic... Shark. To 130 cm. (yes, more than four feet) in length, 15.5 kg. Cond.s: pH range: 6.5 - 7.5; dH range: 2.0 - 29.0; tropical; 22 - 26°C. Shown: A large normal/wild individual of about a foot in length and some juvenile albino sports in captivity of about 3 inches.  A very hardy aquarium species, but does inhale smaller tankmates...

Bigger PIX: The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

    A few other Pangasiid catfishes are at times imported, but their appearance is rare and sporadic.


    The only time I've encountered Pangasiid catfishes that would not eat anything offered was when they were dead. Honestly these fishes will consume all types of foods, in astounding quantities. As juveniles, pangasiids are largely carnivorous by nature, but with growth more vegetative material should be included in their diet. Pellets, blanched terrestrial greens, home-made mixes, canned or frozen peas... all work fine here.


    Pangasiid cats are relatively tough and disease-resistant. They will fall prey to Ich, velvet and other parasitic infestations, but usually are not the first to show these pathogens. More common are secondary bacterial infections resultant from mechanical injuries (running into the sides, decoration, tears with net encounters...). These last are easily treated with good water quality and perhaps the timely use of antibiotic or Furan compound.


    Being popular food fishes and some even game fishes, a few pangasiids are regularly spawned through hormonal manipulation for both pet-fish and commercial uses.


    So... if you have the room, an outgoing, large sized mix of other livestock and plenty of fish food money, the Pangasiid catfishes just might be for you.

Bibliography/Further Information:

Catfishes on the Internet: http://phylogeny.arizona.edu/tree/eukaryotes/animals/chordata/actinopterygii/siluriformes/siluriformes.html

Planet Catfish: http://www.planetcatfish.com/core/index.htm

Burgess, Warren E. 1989. An Atlas of Freshwater and Marine Catfishes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications. NJ, USA. pp. 786.

Edmonds, Les. 1996. Caring for the iridescent shark. TFH 9/96.

Finley, Lee. 1993. Catfish Corner: Pangasius hypophthalmus, the iridescent shark. TFH 7/93.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3d ed.. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. NY. 600pp.

Palicka, Jiri. 1991. Keeping the iridescent shark, Pangasius sutchi. TFH 12/91.


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