Bathyclarias gigas, as its scientific name indicates, is the giant of Lake Malawi's endemic clariid species flock. Indeed, it may be the largest member of the entire family Clariidae (Jackson, 1959). The original description was based on a unique holotype, a male, measuring 135 cm [53 inches; not "5 ft." as Jackson (1961: 555) later claimed] in total length and weighing 32.65 kg (72 pounds) (Jackson, 1959). Jackson (1959) remarked that "[t]hese giant catfishes are well known to lake Nyasa fishermen, who do not consider [the holotype] to be an exceptionally large example...." Individuals in excess of 150 cm (59 inches) have been caught, according to Konings (1990a).

Indigenous names for this behemoth include "Ntanda," "Nkanda," "Pwefu," and "Bombe" (Jackson, 1961; FishBase).

Some conflicting information has been published about the habitat of B. gigas (species summary at FishBase). Eccles (1992) stated that this clariid is apparently pelagic. However, Konings (1990a) reported:

B. gigas can be distinguished from the other species of Bathyclarias by possessing all of the following characters (adapted from Greenwood, 1961: 230):

  1. Gill rakers short, length of longest gill raker (on outer arch) divided by length of longest gill filament = 0.3-0.6 [0.5 to 0.65 length of filaments in material available to Greenwood (1961)];
  2. Barbels rounded in cross section, smooth and simple;
  3. Body smooth, not pitted;
  4. Gills and suprabranchial cavity not black;
  5. Tooth band on vomer less than 1¼ times as broad as the premaxillary band, with fine, discrete, pointed teeth;
  6. Maxillary barbel not reaching beyond tip of pectoral fin;
  7. Snout length contained less than 4.6 times in head length, dorsal outline of snout slightly rounded but head not noticeably chubby; and
  8. Base of maxillary barbel not markedly enlarged; suprabranchial organs on second and fourth gill arches well developed, branched, arborescent. The characters in item (8) separate B. gigas from B. worthingtoni, which it most closely resembles.


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The Cichlid Fishes of Lake Malawi, Africa:

Last Update: 10 March 2001
Web Author: M. K. Oliver, Ph.D.
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