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Chitala chitala (HAMILTON, 1822)

Indian Featherback

SynonymsTop ↑

Mystus chitala Hamilton, 1822; Notopterus chitala (Hamilton, 1822); Notopterus maculatus Valenciennes, 1832; Notopterus buchanani Valenciennes, 1848


Chitala: a Bengali vernacular name for members of this genus.

chitala: as above.


Order: Osteoglossiformes Family: Notopteridae


Although often reported to range throughout most of southern Asia this species is probably restricted to the Indian subcontinent in Pakistan, India (records from the states of Manipur, Uttaranchal, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar), Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Records from Myanmar appear to refer to misidentification of Notopterus notopterus, and those from Southeast Asia to the congeners C. blanciC. borneensisC. hypselonotusC. lopis or C. ornata.

Type locality is ‘Bengal and Bebar rivers, India’.


Mostly known from major river channels and freshwater lakes, but has also been observed in swamps, beels, presumably during the spawning season.

Maximum Standard Length

750 – 1220 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Suitable only for public installations or the very largest, highly-specialised private aquaria.


Prefers dim lighting and access to refuges in the form of driftwood, large rocks or lengths of plastic piping.

A large, mature filter system, rigorous maintenance regime comprising weekly water changes of 50-70% tank volume, and provision of highly-oxygenated water with a degree of movement should be considered mandatory.

Water Conditions

Temperature20 – 28 °C

pH6.0 – 8.0

Hardness36 – 268 ppm


An obligate, typically nocturnal, predator feeding on smaller fishes, crustaceans and other invertebrates in nature but in most cases adapting well to dead alternatives in captivity.

Young fish can be offered chironomid larvae (bloodworm), small earthworms, chopped prawn and suchlike while adults will accept strips of fish flesh, whole prawns/shrimp, mussels, live river shrimp, larger earthworms, etc., as well as dried pellets although the latter should not form the staple diet.

This species should not be fed mammalian or avian meat such as beef heart or chicken since some of the lipids contained in these cannot be properly metabolised by the fish and may cause excess fat deposits and even organ degeneration.

Similarly there is no benefit in the use of ‘feeder’ fish such as livebearers or small goldfish which carry with them the risk of parasite or disease introduction and at any rate tend not have a high nutritional value unless properly conditioned beforehand.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Relatively peaceful with fishes too large to be considered prey but can be territorial with conspecifics and other similarly-shaped species, especially if space is at a premium.


Unreported in captivity but in nature female individuals have been observed to deposit eggs on solid surfaces such as submerged tree stumps or stakes, after which the male remains to guard and tend them. Spawning takes place on a seasonal basis between May and August, which corresponds to the timing of the summer monsoon.

NotesTop ↑

This species’ name has been widely misapplied in the aquarium trade and hobbyist literature, most often in reference to the Southeast Asian species C. ornata, but unlike its relative is in fact very rarely exported for ornamental purposes although its is fished and cultured for food in India.

It can be told apart from C. ornata by possessing a row of non-ocellated (vs. ocellated) black spots in the posterior portion of the body, above the anal-fin. In addition it is the only member of the genus in which a series of transverse gold or silver bars is normally present on the dorsum.

Notopterids are distributed in Africa and Southeast Asia and all possess an elongated anal-fin which is continuous with the caudal-fin, a ‘humped’ appearance, very small scales, plus the ability to breathe atmospheric air.


  1. Hamilton, F., 1822 - Edinburgh & London: i-vii + 1-405
    An account of the fishes found in the river Ganges and its branches.
  2. Kottelat, M., 2013 - The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 27: 1-663
    The fishes of the inland waters of southeast Asia: a catalogue and core bibliography of the fishes known to occur in freshwaters, mangroves and estuaries.
  3. Shrestha, T. K., 2008 - Himalayan Ecosphere, Kathmandu, Nepal: 1-389
    Ichthyology of Nepal. A study of fishes of the Himalayan waters.
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2 Responses to “Chitala chitala – Indian Featherback (Mystus chitala, Notopterus maculatus)”

  • MorayMaster

    Can be a hit or miss aggression wise, my 18″ Royal Clown doesnt tollerate any tankmates at all. Most will likely beat up smaller fish in the tank once lights go out at night. This is a species that likes to be king of the aquarium. Platinum and gold variants are becomming more available in the hobby aswell, reducing their value.

  • mornut

    Sexing the Chitala Chitala: I had a mated pair, 12 years old. She laid eggs about 2 years ago. The eggs did not mature. The male’s slope behind the head is much more pronounced than the female, causing the male to be taller than the female.

    Two weeks ago, the female developed a cist just behind the gill on the left side. The cist ruptured leaving a 1 1/2″ hole through the muscle. I took her to University of TN Vet school and she did not survive travel and treatment. They are housed in a 260 gal. tank. Not sure how the male will fair without her. Both are ~ 24″ and 4 1/2 lbs. Major loss for me.

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