Black Catfish, Neosilurus ater (Perugia 1894)

Other Names: Butter Jew, Narrow-fronted Catfish, Narrow-fronted Tandan

Black Catfish, Neosilurus ater. Source: Dave Wilson. License: All rights reserved


A relatively common eeltail catfish found in northern Australia. The Black Catfish is greyish to blackish, with a paler belly and sometimes a mottled pattern - and a long snout. 

The dorsal and pectoral fins are armed with serrated venomous spines that can inflict a very painful sting.

Video of a Black Catfish in the upper reaches of the Finniss River near Batchelor in the Northern Territory.

Video of Black Catfish in an aquarium.

Cite this page as:
Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray, Neosilurus ater in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 Jan 2019,

Black Catfish, Neosilurus ater (Perugia 1894)

More Info


Endemic to northern Australia from the Carson River, WA, to the Pioneer River, QLD. Also in southern New Guinea. Inhabits swiftly flowing rivers and streams, and the still or gently flowing water in pools and side channels.


Meristic features: Dorsal fin I, 5-7; Pectoral fin I, 11-13; Pelvic fin 12-15; Caudo-dorsal-anal rays 120-160; Vertebrae 50-52

Body elongate and tapering posteriorly; head large (21-25% SL), broad, slightly flattened; snout long and slightly pointed; eye large, set high; 4 pairs of barbels around the mouth; maxillary and nasal barbs reaching to or slightly behind eye; outer mental barbel extending to pectoral fin base; gill rakers on 1st arch 24 to 32; teeth on premaxilla tiny, pointed, on each side of midline; teeth on palate 4 x larger, rounded; teeth on lower jaw pointed anteriorly, molariform posteriorly; lateral line extending almost to base of caudal rays; cluster of 5-25 temporal pores between eyes. Scales absent. 

Anterior dorsal fin small but relatively tall with 1 sharp spine and 5-7 soft rays; 2nd dorsal and anal fins confluent with caudal fin, rounded, 120-160 rays, originating well behind middle of back; caudodorsal fin base length 17 to 30% SL; pectoral fin with 1 sharp spine and 11 to 13 soft rays; adipose fin absent; fin spines stiff, sharp.


To 47 cm, but commonly to 25 cm.


Grey to blackish overall (sometimes mottled), paler on the belly. In some populations, both sexes become goldish on the sides during breeding.


Feeds by thrusting its snout into the sandy bottom on molluscs, insects, crustaceans and worms.


Oviparous, benthic, pair spawners; breeding occurs December to March; adults migrate upstream into shallow riffle zones to lay demersal eggs in crevices on the bottom. Females produce around 8000 eggs of about 2mm diameter with thick chorions and a rough surface texture with a large central yolk. Hatch after 2-3 days.


Typically solitary. Sharp spines at the dorsal and pectoral fin origins are venomous

Species Citation

Lambertia atra Perugis 1894, Ann. Mus. Civ. Stor. Nat. ‘Giacomo Doria’ (2)14: 551 (6). Type locality: Inawi, Papua New Guinea.


Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray

Black Catfish, Neosilurus ater (Perugia 1894)


Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 240 pp., 63 pls.

Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

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Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. 2004. Fish fauna of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarii Aboriginal names. Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161

Ogilby, J.D. 1908. New or little known fishes in the Queensland Museum. Annals of the Queensland Museum 9(1): 3-41. (as Neosilurus mediobarbis)

Perugia, A. 1894. Viaggio di Lamberto Lorio nella Papuasia orientale. Pesci d'acqua dolce. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale 'Giacomo Doria' 2 14: 546-553

Pusey, B.J., Kennard, M.J. & Arthington, A.H. 2004. Freshwater Fishes of North-eastern Australia. Collingwood, Victoria : CSIRO Publishing 684 pp.

Pusey, B.J., Kennard, M.J. & Bird, J. 2000. Fishes of the dune fields of Cape Flattery, northern Queensland and other dune systems in north-eastern Australia. Ichthyological Explorations of Freshwater 11(1): 65-74

Unmack, P.J. 2001. Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes. Journal of Biogeography 28: 1053-1089.

Weber, M. & de Beaufort, L.F. 1913. The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Malacopterygii, Myctophoidea, Ostariophysi: I. Siluroidea. Leiden : Brill Vol. 2 404 pp. 151 figs.

Whitley, G.P. 1964. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : Jacaranda Press 127 pp. (as Lambertichthys ater)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37192009

Danger:Venomous spines


Max Size:47 cm

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