The African sharptooth catfish is a dominant freshwater fish that can grow up to 1.7m long and weigh up to 60kgs, with an estimated maximum lifespan of 8 years. The sharptooth catfish is thus considered to have a rapid growth rate and, depending on the ambient conditions, reach a standard length of 200mm in just one year.
This fish has four pairs of long trailing sensory organs, known as ‘barbels’, around its mouth which resemble a cat’s whiskers, hence the name ‘catfish’. These whisker-like tactile organs house the taste buds of the catfish and are used to search for food in murky water. The body of the sharptooth catfish is elongated, with long, low dorsal and anal fins and a smoothly rounded tail fin, and the body has no scales.
Care should be taken when handling the catfish as it possess a strong, hollow, bonified leading spine-like ray on its dorsal and pectoral fins. As a defence, these spines may be locked into place so that they stick outwards, which can inflict severe wounds.
Colour varies dorsally from dark to light brown and is often mottled with shades of olive and grey while the underside is a pale cream to white.
The small eyes of the catfish are set far forward in the flat and bony head, while at the back of the head there is a subsidiary breathing organ above the gills that allows it to take in oxygen directly from the air.
The native range of the African catfish covers most of the continent, it can be found in almost any habitat, but thrives in slow-flowing rivers, as well as ponds, or dams. Catfish have also been recorded in the upper reaches of estuaries. The presence of an accessory breathing organ enables this species to breath air when very active or under very dry conditions. They remain in the muddy substrates of dams and ponds and occasionally gulp air through the mouth.