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Common names:
Electric catfish

Taxonomic tree
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish)
Order: Siluriformes (Catfish)
Family: Malapteruridae (Electric Catfishes)
Genus: Malapterurus
Species: Malapterurus electricus (Gmelin, 1789)
Number of Occurrancies: 10

Etymology(based on Scharpf & Lazara, 2019)

  • Malapterurus: malakos, meaning soft, pteron, meaning fin; urus, tail; referring to adipose fin, which appears all the more prominent in the absence of a rayed dorsal fin [subsequent authors have attempted to amend Lacepède’s clumsy spelling of the name (Malapterus, Malopterurus, Malacopterurus) but the original spelling prevails]

  • electricus: referring to its ability to produce an electric shock

Synonyms: click here to view synonyms

Type locality: Nile River at Banha, Egypt, 30°28'N 31°11'E. Neotype at British Museum of Natural History (BMNH) 

General identification features for family Malapteruridae

  • Scaleless, cylindrical, body and somewhat bloated in appearence

  • Head covered with thick skin

  • Rayed dorsal fin absent; a moderately developed adipose fin present and situated near the caudal fin; anal fin short situated below the adipose dorsal fin.

  • Three pairs unbranched circum-oral barbels (nasal barbles absent). Note that families Auchenoglanidae and Mochokidae also lack nasal barbels, except that the mandibular 

  • Barbels in Mochokidae are branched

Distinguishing characters for the genus and species: The family Malapteruridae is only represented by one genus in Uganda, Malapterurus, and one species, M. electricus; the features given above suffice to identify the genus. Color is greyish-silver above, dead-white below, the body and fins covered with irregular and often large black blotches. The caudal and anal fins are outlined 

with pinkish band.

Additional remarks: This species has a well-developed electric organ encasing most of the body that is capable of producing a powerful shock (up to 300-400 V) and the fish should be handled with extreeme care through a non-conducting medium. The electric organ may serve as powerful defence organ and may stun and immobilise fish's prey. 

Distribution in Uganda: Lake Albert, the Nile

Occurence: Native

Habitat: Benthopelagic; common in shallow, well-vegetated inshore waters less than 10 m 

Feeding: Voracious piscivore; feeding on cichlids, clupeids, schilbeids and other available fish species. The powerful high-frequency electric organ discharge volleys serve as major predatory mechanism  (Sagua, 1979). 

Biology: No information is available on the biology of fish for Ugandan populations. The fish can grow up to 122 cm standard length (SL). 

Economic importance/End use: The species is impaortant in subsistence fisheries and as a gamefish. Despite the unpleasant appearence, its fresh is reputed to make good eating 

IUCN conservation status: click here to view IUCN status

Threats: Unknown

Main references

  • Greenwood PH. 1966. The fishes of Uganda. The Uganda Society, Kampala. 131 pages.

  • Sharpf C, Lazara J.K. 2019. Fish Name Etymology Database v5.

  • Sagua V.O. (1979). Observations on the food and feeding habits of the African electric catfish Malapterurus electricus (Gmelin). Journal of Fish Biology, 15, 61–69. 

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Natugonza, V. & Musinguzi, L. (editors) 2021. Freshwater Biodiversity Portal for Uganda., version (01/2021).


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