Stinging Catfish

India is home to a diverse range of freshwater fish species, with over 2,500 known species found in its rivers, lakes, and ponds. These fish species vary in size, color, and habitat, and are of great ecological and economic importance. Many of these species are popular food fishes, while others are highly sought-after by anglers and aquarium enthusiasts. The most commonly found freshwater fishes in India include rohu, catla, hilsa, snakehead, mahseer, Indian carp, and gourami. However, there are many more species that are endemic to specific regions or habitats, making India a unique and rich destination for freshwater fish enthusiasts. Despite their significance, many of these species are under threat due to habitat destruction, pollution, and overfishing, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect these valuable aquatic resources.

Heteropneustes fossilis, commonly known as the Stinging Catfish, is a freshwater fish species found in South Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. It is a hardy species that can survive in a wide range of water conditions, including low-oxygen and brackish water. The fish is known for its unique ability to produce a venomous sting from its pectoral and dorsal spines when threatened, hence its common name. Stinging Catfish is an important food fish in some regions and is also used for medicinal purposes in traditional medicine. The fish has an elongated body, with a dark grey or brown coloration and small eyes. It can grow up to 50 cm in length and weigh up to 3 kg. However, like many other freshwater fish species, Stinging Catfish is facing habitat loss and overfishing, leading to a decline in its population. 

Serial NumberCharacteristicsDescription
1Common nameStinging Catfish
2Scientific nameHeteropneustes fossilis
3ColourGreyish-brown with dark spots and a white belly
4Average length in m0.3 – 0.4 meters
5Average weight in kgs1 – 2 kilograms
6Found in river systems ofGanges,Brahmaputra and Meghna
7HabitatFreshwater habitats, including rivers, streams, and swamps
8Any special characteristicsCan breathe air through a specialized organ called a suprabranchial organ and can walk on land using its pectoral fins.


Heteropneustes fossilis, also known as the stinging catfish or Asian stinging catfish, is a freshwater species of catfish found in parts of South and Southeast Asia.The Heteropneustes fossilis has a dark brownish-gray coloration with a lighter underbelly. They have a mottled pattern on their body, with small dark spots all over.

The average weight of a fully grown Heteropneustes fossilis is around 2-3 kg (4.4-6.6 lbs), though they can grow up to 10 kg (22 lbs) in some cases. Heteropneustes fossilis can reach a maximum length of up to 1 meter (3.3 ft). They are not known for their swimming speed and are generally slow-moving fish.

One of the most notable features of the Heteropneustes fossilis is its ability to produce venom. They have two stinging spines on either side of their dorsal fin, which they use to defend themselves against predators. Another unique feature of this fish is that it is capable of breathing atmospheric air, thanks to a modified swim bladder that functions as a lung.


They prefer slow-moving or stagnant waters that are rich in vegetation, as this provides them with shelter and a source of food. Heteropneustes fossilis can also survive in low-oxygen environments and can even tolerate polluted water.

In their natural habitat, Heteropneustes fossilis feeds on a variety of aquatic organisms such as insects, crustaceans, and small fish. They are known to be nocturnal, meaning they are more active at night when they search for food.

River System

Heteropneustes fossilis is commonly found in the rivers and freshwater systems of India. It is distributed throughout the country, but is particularly abundant in the rivers of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin.

This river system is one of the largest in the world and covers a vast area, including parts of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The Heteropneustes fossilis can be found in various tributaries of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as in smaller rivers and lakes throughout the region.

The species is an important food source for local communities and is also popular among aquarium enthusiasts. 

Threatened Status

Heteropneustes fossilis is currently classified as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means that the species is not currently considered to be at significant risk of extinction. However, local populations of Heteropneustes fossilis in some areas of its range are facing threats due to overfishing and habitat destruction. In particular, the construction of dams and irrigation systems can disrupt the natural flow of rivers and cause the loss of important breeding and feeding habitats for the species.

In addition, the Heteropneustes fossilis is sometimes caught and sold for food or for the aquarium trade. Overfishing can reduce the population size of the species and make it more vulnerable to other threats, such as habitat destruction and pollution.

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