Goonch – The devil Catfish

India is a land of diversity, both in terms of its people and its natural treasures. In the murky waters of India’s rivers, lurks one of the most magnificent catfish species, Bagarius yarrelli. The Bagarius yarrelli, commonly known as the giant devil catfish or goonch , is found in the freshwater river systems of South and Southeast Asia. With its enigmatic size, distinctive physical features, and cultural significance, this fish has captured the attention and imagination of many people for generations. Its unique lifecycle, habitat, and threatened status also make it a subject of scientific research and conservation efforts. In this article, we will explore the many aspects of the Bagarius yarrelli, from its physical characteristics to its cultural significance, from its habitat to its threatened status, and everything in between.

Serial No.CharacteristicsDescription
1Common nameGiant Devil catfish or Goonch
2Scientific nameBagarius yarrelli
3ColourDark brown to black with white or yellowish underbelly
4Average length in mCan grow up to 2.5 meters in length
5Average weight in kgsCan weigh up to 200 kilograms
6Found in river systems ofFound in freshwater rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in South and Southeast Asia, including the Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong river basins
7HabitatPrefers deep, slow-moving and standing waters with rocky substrates and submerged logs
8Any special characteristicsHas a large, flattened head with a broad mouth and sharp teeth, and a long adipose fin running the length of the body. Can tolerate low-oxygen environments and has the ability to breathe air through its swim bladder.


Bagarius yarrelli, belongs to Siluriformes order and Sisoridae family, also known as the Giant Devil catfish, is a large predatory fish species that inhabits the rivers and water bodies of South Asia. It is a member of the catfish family, and is known for its impressive size, unique physical appearance, and powerful predatory instincts.

In terms of height, Bagarius yarrelli can grow up to a maximum length of around 1.8 meters (6 feet), although most specimens tend to be somewhat smaller. They are also quite heavy, with the average weight of an adult fish being around 50-60 kilograms (110-130 pounds). These impressive dimensions make Bagarius yarrelli one of the largest freshwater fish species in South Asia.

Physically, Bagarius yarrelli is characterized by its long and slender body, which is covered in smooth, scaleless skin. Its coloration is a dark brownish-gray on the dorsal side, while the ventral side is typically pale white or cream in color. It has a large, flattened head with a wide mouth full of sharp teeth, which it uses to catch and consume its prey.

Despite its size, Bagarius yarrelli is surprisingly fast and agile, and is capable of swimming at high speeds to catch its prey. It is a highly predatory species, and primarily feeds on smaller fish species, crustaceans, and other aquatic creatures that it is able to catch.

In terms of behavior, Bagarius yarrelli is generally a solitary and territorial species. It is known to be highly aggressive and can be difficult to handle, making it a challenging species to study in the wild. It is also a nocturnal species, and tends to be most active during the night when it hunts for prey.

Bagarius yarrelli is a carnivorous species, and their diet consists of a variety of prey. They are opportunistic feeders and will consume any small to medium-sized aquatic animals they can catch. Their diet includes fish, prawns, crabs, snails, insects, and other invertebrates found in their habitat.

As they mature, their diet also changes. Juveniles primarily feed on small crustaceans and insects, while adults prefer larger prey such as fish and crabs. They are also known to be nocturnal predators, and their feeding activity increases during the night. 

In addition to their natural diet, bagarius yarrelli has been known to prey on other fish species cultured in aquaculture ponds, which can result in significant economic losses for the aquaculture industry. In aquaculture, Bagarius yarrelli is often fed with other fish species such as tilapia, carp, and catfish. These prey species are commonly used as feed for the growth and development of B. yarrelli in fish farms. The use of other fish species as feed is beneficial for the overall growth of B. yarrelli, as it provides a diverse source of nutrients and proteins that are essential for their development. Additionally, feeding on other fish species in captivity also helps to mimic their natural feeding habits in the wild, which can improve their overall health and behavior.

In some regions of India, Bagarius yarrelli holds cultural significance and is often featured in local folklore and traditions. In particular, the fish is considered sacred by some communities and is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. In addition, the fish is often used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments. The fish is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat conditions such as asthma, respiratory disorders, and arthritis.

The fish is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat inflammation and swelling. Some traditional healers also use Bagarius yarrelli to treat skin disorders, digestive issues, and fever.

It’s worth noting that while Bagarius yarrelli is used in traditional medicine, there is limited scientific evidence to support its efficacy in treating specific conditions.

In terms of cuisine, Bagarius yarrelli is highly valued for its meat, which is said to be tender and flavorful. The fish is usually prepared by grilling or frying it with various spices and herbs to enhance its taste. Some popular dishes made with Bagarius yarrelli include curries, stews, and soups.

In some parts of India, Bagarius yarrelli is also used to make fish pickle, a popular condiment made with fish, oil, spices, and vinegar. The fish pickle is usually served with rice or bread and is known for its tangy and spicy taste. Overall, while Bagarius yarrelli is not as widely consumed as some other fish species in India, it holds an important place in the country’s culinary traditions and cultural heritage.


The lifecycle of Bagarius yarrelli starts with the spawning of the fish. Spawning usually takes place during the rainy season, between June and September. The female fish lays a large number of eggs on a flat surface, such as a rock or a piece of wood, in the shallow areas of the river. The eggs are then fertilized by the male fish, and the parents guard the eggs until they hatch.

After hatching, the larvae are free-swimming and feed on plankton for the first few weeks. They are vulnerable to predators during this time, and many do not survive. As they grow, they become less vulnerable and start feeding on small fish and crustaceans.

Once the larvae have reached a certain size, they undergo a metamorphosis and transform into juveniles. Juvenile Bagarius yarrelli have a distinct appearance with a spotted body and a long, slender tail. They continue to feed on small fish and crustaceans and are primarily nocturnal, spending their days hiding in crevices and under rocks.

As they mature, the juveniles grow in size and undergo several more stages of development before becoming adult fish. They reach sexual maturity between 4-6 years of age and can live up to 20 years in the wild.

During their adult stage, Bagarius yarrelli become apex predators in the river ecosystem, feeding on a variety of fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic animals. They are also important prey for larger predators such as crocodiles and otters.

The lifecycle of Bagarius yarrelli is complex and is influenced by various environmental factors such as water temperature, flow rate, and food availability. While their natural lifecycle is well adapted to the river ecosystem, human activities such as dam construction and overfishing can disrupt their lifecycle and threaten their survival.


In terms of habitat, Bagarius yarrelli can be found in a variety of freshwater environments, including rivers, streams, and ponds. The fish is particularly abundant in slow-moving rivers with deep pools, as well as in areas with rocky bottoms and submerged vegetation.

The water in which Bagarius yarrelli is found typically has a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, ranging from 7.0 to 8.0. The salinity of the water is typically low, as the fish is adapted to living in freshwater environments. The temperature of the water can vary depending on the season and location, but Bagarius yarrelli is known to be able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

The surrounding flora and fauna in areas where Bagarius yarrelli is found can also vary widely depending on the location. In some areas, the fish may be found in densely forested regions with a variety of plant species, while in other areas the surrounding landscape may be more arid and desert-like.

As for other species that may be found in the same areas as Bagarius yarrelli, these can include a wide variety of freshwater fish species, as well as amphibians, reptiles, and various species of birds and mammals.

River System

These river systems provide the ideal habitat for Bagarius yarrelli to thrive, and they play an important role in the ecology and culture of the region.

One of the primary river systems in India where Bagarius yarrelli can be found is the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basin, which spans across India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. This basin is one of the largest in the world and provides a variety of freshwater habitats for many different fish species, including Bagarius yarrelli. The rivers in this basin are fed by the Himalayan Mountains and are known for their high water flows and unique topography.

Another important river system where Bagarius yarrelli can be found is the Mahanadi River, which flows through the eastern states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The Mahanadi River is a major source of water for the region, and it provides important habitat for many different fish species, including Bagarius yarrelli. The river is surrounded by lush vegetation and provides a unique ecosystem that supports a variety of wildlife.

The Godavari River is another important river system in India where Bagarius yarrelli can be found. This river is located in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and is known for its diverse wildlife and unique ecosystem. The river provides a variety of habitats for many different fish species, including Bagarius yarrelli, and it is an important source of water for the surrounding communities.

Bagarius yarrelli can also be found in the Narmada River, which flows through the central state of Madhya Pradesh. The Narmada River is one of the few rivers in India that is considered to be free-flowing, which means that it has not been dammed or altered significantly by human activity. This has allowed the river to maintain a unique ecosystem that supports a variety of fish species, including Bagarius yarrelli.

Other river systems in India where Bagarius yarrelli can be found include the Krishna River, the Cauvery River, and the Tapti River. These rivers provide important habitats for many different fish species, and they are an integral part of the culture and ecology of the regions they flow through.

Threatened Status

The species is categorized as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which means it is close to qualifying for a threatened category, such as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered.

The primary threat to Bagarius yarrelli is habitat loss and degradation due to human activities, including damming, pollution, and overfishing. In many parts of its range, the Ganges river basin, the species is threatened by pollution and siltation caused by anthropogenic activities such as deforestation, industrialization, and agricultural activities. These activities lead to the loss of aquatic vegetation and cause changes in water quality, which negatively affect the species’ habitat and food sources.

Overfishing is another significant threat to the species. Bagarius yarrelli is a commercially valuable fish and is also caught for subsistence and recreational purposes. Overfishing has led to a significant decline in the species’ population in many areas.

Habitat destruction is another significant threat to Bagarius yarrelli. The degradation and loss of their natural habitat, including rivers, lakes, and wetlands, due to pollution, deforestation, and human encroachment have significantly reduced their population. The alteration of the natural flow of rivers, which affects the water quality and availability of food sources for fish, has also contributed to their decline.

Several conservation programs are in place to protect the species from further decline. One such initiative is the Gangetic River Dolphin Conservation Programme, which is aimed at conserving the Ganges river dolphin and its associated aquatic biodiversity, including Bagarius yarrelli. The program includes measures such as the regulation of fishing practices, pollution control, and habitat restoration. The Indian government has also launched the National Mission for Clean Ganga, launched in 2014, which aims to clean and rejuvenate the river Ganga, which is one of the key habitats of Bagarius yarrelli. The mission also includes measures to promote the sustainable use of river resources and to protect the biodiversity of the river ecosystem. Several other programs have been initiated to protect the Bagarius yarrelli, such as the National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) and the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR). These programs aim to conserve the species by promoting responsible fishing practices, breeding and stocking programs, and habitat conservation efforts.

It is essential to protect Bagarius yarrelli because it plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of riverine ecosystems. The species is a top predator, and its presence helps regulate the populations of other aquatic species, including smaller fish and invertebrates. Bagarius yarrelli also serves as an indicator of the health of riverine ecosystems. Protecting the species means safeguarding its habitat and ensuring the sustainability of the ecosystem it inhabits.


In conclusion, the Bagarius yarrelli is a remarkable fish that holds a special place in the cultural and ecological landscape of India. Despite its impressive size and strength, this species faces a range of threats that put its survival in jeopardy. Overfishing, habitat degradation, and pollution have all taken a toll on the population of this fish, leading to a decline in its numbers.

The cultural significance of Bagarius yarrelli cannot be overstated. This species has been an important part of the diets and traditions of communities across India for centuries. It is often used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, and its importance is reflected in the many stories and legends that feature the fish.

Habitat degradation is a significant threat to the Bagarius yarrelli. As rivers become more polluted and water levels fluctuate, the fish’s ability to survive is compromised. Climate change is also a major concern, as rising temperatures and changing weather patterns can have a profound impact on the health and resilience of this species.

Conservation efforts are crucial in protecting the Bagarius yarrelli from further harm. The National Aquatic Resources Conservation and Management Program, launched by the Indian government in 1983, aims to protect and manage the country’s aquatic resources. Through this program, steps are being taken to reduce overfishing, restore degraded habitats, and promote sustainable fishing practices.

These conservation efforts must continue and expand. The Bagarius yarrelli is not just a symbol of India’s rich natural heritage, but a vital component of the country’s ecosystems. By protecting this species, we are not just preserving a magnificent fish, but also safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the rivers and communities that depend on it.

To say the least, the Bagarius yarrelli is a fish that deserves our attention and protection. Its cultural significance and ecological importance make it a vital component of India’s biodiversity, and it is up to all of us to ensure its continued existence. Through conservation efforts, protected areas, and sustainable fishing practices, we can work together to secure a future for the Bagarius yarrelli and the countless other species that call India’s rivers home.

image_pdfDownload As PDF

Comment (1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *