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Arius graeffei (Family Ariidae)

Blue Catfish, Lesser Salmon Catfish, Fork-Tailed Catfish



Blue Catfish are found in freshwater and inshore coastal waters between the Ashburton River WA, around northern Australia to the Hunter River NSW. They are also present along the southern coast of New Guinea (NSW, QLD, NT, WA).


Blue Catfish grow to about 550 mm in length (including the tail) and 1.6 kg. They have an adipose fin and a forked tail. They have three pairs of barbels or whiskers around their mouth: two barbels near the corners of the mouth, and four along the chin. There is a strong, serrated spine at the front of the rayed dorsal fin, and strong serrated spines at the front of each pectoral fin. On the palate (of the mouth) the teeth are fine and form a transverse series of four oval patches (very rarely less), the outer patches are considerably larger than the inner patches. The bony shield on top of the head is finely granular. There are 15–21 rays in the anal fin, 16–23 rakers along the front of the first gill arch, and there are also rakers along the back of all the gill arches. Blue Catfish are either dark brown, blue or fawn above and pale (creamy or pink) below. Note: there are 18 species of "fork-tailed catfishes" in tropical and sub-tropical Australian waters and all of them look very similar.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Blue Catfish occur in a variety of habitats that include swiftly flowing to slow moving water, clear or turbid and freshwater to marine. Blue Catfish are omnivorous and opportunistic. Spawning occurs between the late dry season and the end of the wet season. The eggs are large (up to 14 mm in diameter each) and few (varies with size of the parents but up to about 130). The males brood the eggs and the young fish in their mouths for 4–6 weeks until they are able to fend for themselves.

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Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Blue (and other fork-tailed) Catfishes are pests to fishers as their spines easily entangle nets, and the fish locks them at right angles to its body, making it even more difficult to get out of the nets. Heavy gill netting in certain areas during the male brooding periods can reduce (future) populations to some extent. Blue Catfish also make good pets, but require large aquaria due to their size.

Further Reading:

Allen, G. R., Midgley, S. H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum. Perth. 394pp.

Leggett, R. & Merrick, J. R. (1987). Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums. J. R. Merrick Publications. Sydney. 245pp.

Merrick, J. R. & Schmida, G. E. (1984). Australian Freshwater Fishes: Biology and Management. Griffith Press Ltd. 409pp.

Rimmer, M. A. (1985). Reproductive cycle of the fork-tailed catfish Arius graeffei Kner and Steindachner (Pisces: Ariidae) from the Clarence River, New South Wales. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 36: 23–32.


Text: Patricia Kailola. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Neil Armstrong.

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Images and Multi-media:  
Attached Image  
image/gif 70406 bytes Arius graeffei
Distribution Map  
image/jpeg 64893 bytes Distribution of Arius graeffei

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