Blue Catfish, Neoarius graeffei (Kner & Steindachner 1867)

Other Names: Blue Salmon Catfish, Forktail Catfish, Fork-tail Catfish, Lesser Salmon Catfish, Salmon Catfish, Smaller Salmon Catfish

Blue Catfish, Neoarius graeffei. Source: Neil Armstrong. License: All rights reserved


A stout dusky grey catfish often with a bluish tinge and occasionally irregular blotches, a rounded to slightly truncate snout, and a relatively small eye.

Blue Catfish have venomous serrated fin spines that may inflict a very painful wound.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023, Neoarius graeffei in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Jun 2024,

Blue Catfish, Neoarius graeffei (Kner & Steindachner 1867)

More Info


Northern half of Australia, from the Houtman Abrolhos islands and the Ashburton River in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, north and east around to the Hunter River in New South Wales. (A specimen at Museums Victoria was collected from the mouth of the Betka River mouth, Victoria). The species also occurs along the southern coast of New Guinea. 

The species has not been recorded from Victoria, or the Hunter River region of New South Wales for many years).

Occurs in freshwater and estuarine habitats, including swiftly to slow-flowing clear or turbid freshwaters, estuaries and inshore coastal marine environments.


Dorsal fin I, 7; Anal fin 15-19; Pectoral fin I, 10-11; Caudal fin 15; Gill rakers 17-22.

Body robust, elongate; anterior profile straight, moderately steep, elevated slightly before dorsal fin; head ovate; head shield finely and sharply granulated; snout rounded; upper lip moderately fleshy, extending beyond mouth gape; a shallow groove may be present on snout between posterior nostrils; head 3.2-3.8 in SL; eye oval, dorsolateral; 3 pairs of barbels around the mouth; maxillary barbels moderately long, extending past head to base of pectoral fin or just beyond (2.5-5.8 in SL); free vertebrae 45-48.

Jaw teeth fine, sharp and depressible, arranged in a curved band of 6-9 irregular series; palatine teeth villiform, in transverse series of 4 oval patches, smaller inner patches may be fused in larger fish. Scales absent, covered in smooth skin. 

Dorsal and pectoral fin spines thick; pelvic fin spines stoutly serrate on back margin; pelvic fin shape variable, in males base narrow, fin rays rarely reaching anal fin origin; in females base broad, inner elements become thickened and develop a pad or hook with sexual maturity.


To 60 cm, commonly to 35 cm SL


Dusky grey above, often with a bluish tinge, pale creamy to pinkish below. A small number of albino and irregularly pigmented specimens have been recorded.


Feeds opportunistically on small fishes, prawns, insects, worms, plant material, detritus and small mammals. Almost half the Lesser Salmon Catfishes sampled from the Ashburton River, Western Australia, contained Spinifex Hopping Mice, Notomys alexis, presumably following collapse or flooding of one or multiple burrow systems along the river (Kelly et al. 2016).


Spawns occurs from the late dry to the end of the wet season. Females lay large eggs (to 14 mm in diameter). Male parents brood the developing eggs and young fry in their mouths for 4-6 weeks until the young are able to fend for themselves.

The Blue Catfish can tolerate temperatures ranging up to 38 degrees C, and is an anadromous species, undertaking extensive breeding migrations. The species breeds annually during later Spring and early summer when water temperatures reach 26 degrees Celsius. The male parent incubates the developing eggs in its mouth.


First Peoples names for this species: Mulurra (Bunuba language group in the Kimberley); Gooloomangarri (Gooniyandi language group in the Kimberley; Moolirr (Ngarinyin language group in the Kimberley); Barooloo (Nyikina language group in the Kimberley).

Similar Species

The Blue Catfish differs from the similar Highfin Catfish, Neoarius berneyi, in having a shorter dorsal fin, a slightly smaller eye and in the shape of the tooth patches on the roof of the mouth. The outer tooth patches are larger than the inner in N. graeffei, but are about the same size in N. berneyi.


The species is named in honour of Swiss entomologist Eduard Gräffe, who was employed by  Johann Cesar VI. Godeffroy, the founder of the Museum Godeffroy. Gräffe curated a natural history collection containing several new species from the South Pacific (including this catfish).

Species Citation

Arius graeffei Kner & Steindachner, 1867, Sber. Akad. Wiss. Wien 54(1)(1): 383 [28], Pl. 4 (fig. 12). Type locality: Samoa (doubtful).


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Blue Catfish, Neoarius graeffei (Kner & Steindachner 1867)


Allen, G.R. 1982. Inland Fishes of Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 86 pp. 6 figs 20 pls.

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

Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. (as Arius graeffei)

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

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls.

Blaber, S.J.M., Brewer, D.T. & Salini, J.P. 1994. Diet and dentition in tropical ariid catfishes from Australia. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 40: 159-174.

Blaber, S.J.M., Young, J.W. & Dunning, M.C. 1985. Community structure and zoogeographic affinities of the coastal fishes of the Dampier region of north-western Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 36: 247-266. (as Arius graeffei)

Breder, C.M. & Rosen, D.E. 1966. Modes of reproduction in fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey. 941 p. (as Hexanematichthys australis)

Burgess, W.E. 1989. An Atlas of Freshwater and Marine Catfishes — a preliminary survey of the Siluriformes. Neptune City, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 783 pp.

Butler, G. & Kennard, M. 2019. Neoarius graeffei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T196864A2477684. Accessed on 12 October 2023.

Castelnau, F.L. de 1878. Australian fishes, new or little known species. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 2(3): 225-248 pls 1-2 (described as Arius curtisii, type locality - Moreton Bay, QLD).

Ferraris, C.J. 2007. Checklist of catfishes, recent and fossil (Osteichthyes: Siluriformes), and catalogue of siluriform primary types. Zootaxa 1418: 1–628

Gittleman, J.L. 1981. The phylogeny of parental care in fishes. Animal Behavior 29: 936-941 (as Hexanematichthys australis)

Günther, A. 1867. Descriptions of some new or little known species of fishes in the collection of the British Museum. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1867: 99-104 pl. 10 (described as Arius australis, type locality -  near Ash Island, Hunter River, NSW).

Jackson, S., Finn, M. & Featherson, P. 2012. Aquatic resource use by indigenous Australians in two tropical river catchments: the Fitzroy River and Daly River. Human Ecology 40: 893-908.

Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762

Kailola, P.J. 1983. Arius graeffei and Arius armiger valid names for two common species of Australo-Papuan fork-tailed catfishes (Pisces, Ariidae). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 107(3): 187-196 figs 1-6

Kailola, P.J. 1999. Family Ariidae. pp. 1827-1879 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 3 1397-2068 pp.

Kailola, P.J. 2004. A phylogenetic exploration of the catfish family Ariidae (Otophysi: Siluriformes). The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 20: 87-166. (as Ariopsis graeffei)

Kelly, K., Travouillon, K.J., Keleher, J., Gibson-Kueh, S. & Morgan, D.L. 2016.  Mammal predation by an ariid catfish in a dryland river of Western Australia, Journal of Arid Environments 135: 9-11

Kner, R. & Steindachner, F. 1867. Über neue Fische aus dem Museum der Herren Johann Caesar Godeffroy und Sohn in Hamburg. Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse 54(1)(1): 356-395 4 pls  

Larson, H.K. & Martin, K.C. 1990. Freshwater Fishes of the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences Handbook Series Number 1. Darwin : Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 102 pp. 73 figs.  

Larson, H.K. & Williams, R.S. 1997. Darwin Harbour fishes: a survey and annotated checklist. pp. 339-380 in Hanley, H.R., Caswell, G., Megirian, D. & Larson, H.K. (eds). The Marine Flora and Fauna of Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia. Proceedings of the Sixth International Marine Biology Workshop. Darwin : Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory 466 pp. 

Leggett, R. & Merrick, J.R. 1987. Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums. Artarmon : J.R. Merrick Publications 241 pp. 142 figs.  

Marceniuk, A.P. & Menezes, N.A. 2007. Systematics of the family Ariidae (Ostariophysi, Siluriformes), with a redefinition of the genera. Zootaxa 1416: 1-126.

Marceniuk, A.P., Oliveira, C. & Ferraris, C.J. Jr. 2023. A new classification of the family Ariidae (Osteichthyes: Ostariophysi: Siluriformes) based on combined analyses of morphological and molecular data. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society Advance access: 1-51.  

McDowall, R.M. (ed.) 1996. Freshwater Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Sydney : Reed Books 247 pp.  

Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management. Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp. figs 280 col. figs.  

Morgan, D.L., Allen, G.R., Pusey, B.J. & Burrows, D.W. 2011. A review of the freshwater fishes of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Zootaxa 2816. 1-64  

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  

Prokop, F. 2002. Australian Fish Guide. Croydon South, Victoria : Australian Fishing Network 256 pp.  

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

Rimmer, M.A. 1985. Reproductive cycle of the fork-tailed catfish Arius graeffei Kner & Steindachner (Pisces : Ariidae) from the Clarence River, New South Wales. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 36: 23-32 (as Arius graeffei)  

Sumpton, W. & Greenwood, J. 1990. Pre- and post-flood feeding ecology of four species of juvenile fish from the Logan-Albert estuarine system, Moreton Bay, Queensland. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 41(6): 795-806. (as Arius graeffei)  

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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37188005

Biology:Mouth brooder (males)

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Danger:Venomous fin spines

Depth:1-10 m

Habitat:Freshwater to coastal marine

Max Size:60 cm SL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map