Auchenoglanis occidentalis occidentalis
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Auchenoglanis occidentalis occidentalis

Common Names: African Giraffe Bagrid
Giraffe Catfish
Family: Claroteidae
Category: Catfish_Bottom_Feeders
Distribution: Africa; senegal, ghana, the rift lakes, many other locales, a widespread african species.
Main Ecosystem: Lake; Equally at home in large rivers and lakes
Temperament: Peaceful; A truly calm, even sociable fish, it is no threat to fish that will not easily fit in its mouth, and even at its massive adult size fish much over 6 inches in length will most likely be safe. It tolerates its own species well, and groups are required for breeding. It is however a powerful, active fish that will make a beeline for eggs and fry of other fish, and there may be conflict as a result.

Usually a very intelligent and curious fish for the aquarist , often a willing handfeeder, this fish will greet the keeper daily by approaching the glass and observing the keeper closely. May nibble gently and touch the keeper during cage maintenance. Some specimens are almost considered personable to the point of affectionate.
Diet: Ominvore; A true omnivore, almost any pellet , granular, flake,wafer, live or frozen food will be considered and most likely accepted by this king of scavengers.Vegetable fare in blanched forms will be accepted too, and the only prerequisite for feeding that really need be paid attention to is that this large catfish recieve enough protien to sustain its bulk.

Favourites include all worm types, including earthworms, and even large specimens will be tempted by large quantities of tubifex and bloodworm. Surprisingly small foods as long as supplied in bulk will often be accepted, daphnia for example will be sucked up from the substrate, and stomach contents analysis has revealed that they will micropredate in many small organisms, including algaes and planktons.

Giraffe cats will suck detritus from substrate, even deep down as far as 4 to 6 inches when adult, and this species is most useful for cleaning the bottom of aquaria housing other large predators and messy feeders. Foods that are "too fresh" are often ignored especially by juveniles initially, but as the foods break down , they are often consumed with 24 to 48 hours, so the fishkeeper may have to break a few traditional rules about removing uneaten food with this species. For this reason its also not a good idea to house this fish with compulsive feeding species who enjoy a similar diet, as the other fish in the tank could become morbidly obese during efforts to ensure your giraffe cat is adequately fed.

Its appetite is enormous, to the point that it is actually quite difficult to overfeed the average specimen.Owners of this catfish can be expected to buy pellets in bulk! One specimen would scavenge the same amount of food as approximately 150 or so corydoras catfish! Adult specimens can get by one one feed per week, although it is much nicer to give them moderate daily feeds to keep them busy and enhance their life quality.

Giraffe cats from the rift lakes have adapted to the lower levels of available detritus, and have changed their habits to support their bulk by eating numerous small shellfish. Try offering rift lake species a range of shellfish with the shells already removed, such as cockles, mussels and clams.Small portions of shrimp will probably also be accepted if shelled.

The key is variety, and quantity. Obviously this is not a fish for the aquarist with a limited budget in any sense.

A final note on feeding, giraffe cats kept on sandy substrates may produce massive clouds of sand and detritus when pumping water through the substrate and generally rooting about, and filter systems have to be robust enough or protected by prefilters to prevent damage from blocking and abrasion.
Care: Care is easy as long as you remember that this is a truly huge species, needing 200 gallons or more as adults. Pairs will need up to 500 gallon, and breeding groups require space not unlike that of a half size public swimming baths.

That said, they are tolerant of less than perfect water quality, and though their preference is for soft acidic water, some specimens are sourced from the rift lakes, and can be housed in hard water, and be a useful part of a truly huge rift cichlid aquaria. In no way will providing excellent water quality in any way inconveinience this fish, and the keeper should strive for excellence in keeping his prized giraffe catfish. Large water changes may be required. Chances of skin infections will be much reduced if kept under good conditions. Ph ranges and tolerated hardnesses are considered negotiable as long as there is sufficient time given to acclimation.

Chunky pebbles and large gravels are to be avoided, not only will this fish most likely send such items hurtling through aquarium glass, but also they like to forage and part bury themselves periodically in soft loose substrates, from muds, to sands, and fine grained non-abrasive gravel. That cavernous mouth sucks up a lot of gravel and damage to it from the substrate texture is to be avoided. Plants can be included, but smaller plants may be eaten, and uprooted, so choose only the most vigourous, sizeable and tough leaved plants. Rocks are only to be included in a giraffe catfish aquarium if they are too big to be moved, and cannot be undermined by digging, or there may be fatal collapses.

As previously mentioned, this fish eats -A LOT, so filtration must be massive and top notch, and water changes significant. For humane care this fish requires a great deal of room, so estimate tanks to be at least 5 -6 times the total length of the fish. The tank need not be especially deep, but the length is required for swimming.

This is a photosensitive species and it will not enjoy captivity if exposed to too much light intensity or sudden changes in illumination. Even this gregarious species may retreat and fail to feed if kept too bright and overexposed. Hiding retreats must be provided.
6.5 - 7.5
21°C - 26°C
70°F - 79°F
Potential Size: Male: 89.9cm (35.4")
Female: 89.9cm (35.4")
Water Region: Bottom; A confirmed bottom dweller in nature, but due to size, even a 5 foot rise from the bottom is a small journey for this fish, in aquaria it will sit on the bottom, but will likely use all available space at times.
Activity: NonSpecific; Primarily chooses to avoid bright light, but otherwise may be active and feeding around the clock.
Gender: None visible externally, egg carrying females will doubtless be thicker bodied.
Breeding: Not yet reported in captivity proper, but it should be possible in a large heated pool or outdoor pond in a country with the appropriate temperature range. 4-6 adults are estimated to be needed to stimulate breeding competition. In nature, males guard the eggs, although they are not often particularly good parents. Eggs if produced would be better removed from the adults and raised in a small aquarium.

Interestingly this fish has two different breeding techniques according to location. In river systems they will lay eggs under roots and hidden in leafy detritus, but in the rift lakes adults will construct a flat circular pit approximately 3 feet across , lay eggs centrally and the males guard the eggs and fry. There have been some unsubstantiated reports of occassional mouthbrooding behaviour too.

Some nests are predated upon by another catfish species, Dinotopterus cunningtoni, who's young are laid withing the giraffe cats nest will hatch earlier and consume the eggs of the giraffe cat, so those wishing to attemp to breed giraffe cats would do well to avoid such tankmakes or similar species. The males presence on the nest is more intimidatory from his presence alone, they are not the most defensive of fish by nature, and are easily duped by the smaller Dinotopterus catfish.

It has also been reported than in the rift lakes , nests are only found where there is a high presence of food items , usually large numbers of shellfish, on which the giraffe cat is obviously dependant for pre-breeding conditioning.
Variants: There are a few african bagrids of a similar look and morphology, hence the often outlandish variances in reported size. The strongly reticulated patternation of juveniles fades with age, and full size adults may be almost uniform grey or brown making them difficult to distinguish from other species at a glance.Albino specimens have been witnessed in nature, although they are not frequently occurring enough to be offered in the trade.

Giraffe catfish themselves have several subspecies, which are all visually identical apart from size. These are :
Auchenoglanis occidentalis occidentalis
Auchenoglanis occidentalis tanganicanus
Auchenoglanis occidentalis tanganyikanus
Auchenoglanis occidentalis tchadensis
Auchenoglanis occidentalis tchadiensis

Specimens from the rift lakes,especially lake Tanganyika are truly massive, up to a whopping 70 cm or more in length and the increase in bulk is proportionate , thusly making them such a huge fish as to be only suitable for the most massive tanks or public aquaria. Those not wishing to own a fish that may approach a potential three feet in length should confine themselves to purchasing the smaller species from the river systems of the volta region, who typically average up to 17 inches and avoid the rift lake specimens.
Comments: This is a fish only for the experienced and the professional, it is not a fish that you can buy and expect to pass on as it gets older. Most zoos and privateers are not equipped to take on such beasts regularly, and no-one need consider taking on such a fish without the full intention and budget to provide it with a home for the rest of its life. This is an expensive species to keep, and the larger equipment needs and water changes required require both a fit and well grouded keeper.NOT for beginners, despite the relative ease of care of the young specimens. This species is massively allergic to medications including even the tiniest amount of malachite green, methylene blue and copper, moreso than even clown loaches and mormyrids, consequently very difficult to treat for common infections like whitespot.

Unless totally committed to the responsibility of owning this space demanding species, keep away!
Main Colours: Grey, Brown, Black
Markings: Spots Large
Mouth: Downturned
Tail: Forked
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Image Credit: longhairedgit
Submitted By: longhairedgit
Contributors: longhairedgit, riri1
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