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Notopterus notopterus (PALLAS, 1769)

Bronze Featherback

SynonymsTop ↑

Gymnotus notopterus Pallas, 1769; Notopterus kapirat La Cepède, 1800; Clupea synura Bloch & Schneider, 1801; Osteoglossum cynurus Swainson, 1839; Mystus badgee Sykes, 1839; Notopterus pallasii Valenciennes, in Cuvier & Valenciennes, 1848; Notopterus bontianus Valenciennes, in Cuvier & Valenciennes, 1848; ? Glanis imberbis Gronow, in Gray, 1854; Notopterus primaevus Günther, 1876; Notopterus osmani Talwar & Jhingran, 1991


Notopterus: from the Ancient Greek νῶτον (nôton), meaning ‘back’, and πτερόν (pterón), meaning ‘wing, feather’, in reference to the small, quill-like dorsal fin.

notopterus: as above.


Order: Osteoglossiformes Family: Notopteridae


Currently accepted to occur throughout the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia with extensive records from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Indonesia, but see ‘Notes’. It is an important food fish across much of this range and a soup containing its flesh is apparently given to people suffering from measles in some regions.

Type locality is given as ‘Poona, Seedataik’, presumably in reference to modern-day Pune district, Maharashtra state, western India.


Inhabits lower parts of rivers and tributaries, swamps, floodplains, and lakes, including some man-made dams to which it seems well-adaptable. Moves into areas of flooded forest to spawn.

Maximum Standard Length

400 – 600 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.

Sexual Dimorphism



Unrecorded in aquaria. Wild fish have been observed depositing eggs among submerged vegetation in areas of flooded forest during the wet season.

NotesTop ↑

This species is also referred to as ‘Asian knifefish’ or ‘ghost knifefish’ in the aquarium trade in the aquarium trade but arguably has no place in the ornamental hobby given its adult size and specialised requirements. It is sometimes confused with the African species Xenomystus nigri but is easily told apart by its larger adult size and presence (vs. absence) of a dorsal fin.

The genus Notopterus is currently monotypic but is likely to represent a complex of closely-related species, all of which are currently grouped together under N. notopterus. It is told apart from related genera by its plain brown adult colour pattern, relatively straight dorsal head profile, maxilla extending to pupil or posterior border of eye, and presence of larger scales on head than body. Juveniles possess a number of dark vertical bars on the body.

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. Pallas, P. S., 1769 - Berolini, Gottl. August. Lange. v. 1 (fasc. 7): 1-42
    Spicilegia Zoologica quibus novae imprimis et obscurae animalium species iconibus, descriptionibus atque commentariis illustrantur.
  2. Freyhof, J., D. V. Serov and T. N. Nguyen, 2000 - Bonner Zoologische Beiträge 49(1-4): 93-99
    A preliminary checklist of the freshwater fishes of the River Dong Nai, South Vietnam.
  3. Kottelat, M., 2013 - The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 27: 1-663
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  4. Kottelat, M., 2001 - WHT Publications, Colombo: 1-198
    Fishes of Laos.
  5. Kottelat, M., 2001 - Environment and Social Development Unit, East Asia and Pacific Region. The World Bank: i-iii + 1-123 + 1-18
    Freshwater fishes of northern Vietnam. A preliminary check-list of the fishes known or expected to occur in northern Vietnam with comments on systematics and nomenclature.
  6. Kottelat, M., 1998 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 9(1): 1-128
    Fishes of the Nam Theun and Xe Bangfai basins, Laos, with diagnoses of twenty-two new species (Teleostei: Cyprinidae, Balitoridae, Cobitidae, Coiidae and Odontobutidae).
  7. Ng, H. H. and H.-H. Tan, 1999 - Zoological Studies 38(3): 350-366
    The fishes of the Endau drainage, Peninsular Malaysia with descriptions of two new species of catfishes (Teleostei: Akysidae, Bagridae).
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    FAO species identification field guide for fishery purposes. Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong.
  9. Shrestha, T. K., 2008 - Himalayan Ecosphere, Kathmandu, Nepal: 1-389
    Ichthyology of Nepal. A study of fishes of the Himalayan waters.

2 Responses to “Notopterus notopterus – Bronze Featherback (Gymnotus notopterus, Notopterus kapirat)”

  • lesk

    It is actually not bizarre (well, not unusual) for a species or species group to be regarded locally as valuable in dealing with measles. In East Africa’s Lake Victoria, haplochromine cichlids (fulu, furu, or nkeje) are used to make a soup given to people with measles. We have not gotten around to testing for medicinal compounds but the soup would be just as useful as chicken soup (and cheaper and more available, especially to the poor) for being easy for an ill person to get down and keep down, and for maintaining electrolytes.

  • aditya5903

    i have extensive experience with this species, both with commercial aquaculture as well as the home aquarium.

    i have never seen a specimen of more than 30 odd cms, even in farms/ponds. Most adult specimens are around the 25 cm mark.

    they can be successfully kept in larger tanks of 5 feet length and above, preferably planted heavily with some gaps where they tend to hang. Eat freeze dried shrimp with gusto. Pretty stationery while not feeding. Tend to hover in a chosen spot during the day. More Active after lights out.

    Not ideal to keep multiple specimens in the same tank. They dont like each other. They need exceptionally filtered water but are tolerant otherwise.

    Not aggressive at all to other fish. Will eat Neon Tetra size fish though.

    beautiful sight to see them gently undulating at one place amongst the plants.

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