Home | Aquarium Livestock | Introducing a Catfish Fancier’s Dream: the Frog Mouth or Angler Catfish, Chaca bankanensis – Part 2

Introducing a Catfish Fancier’s Dream: the Frog Mouth or Angler Catfish, Chaca bankanensis – Part 2

Click: Introducing a Catfish Fancier’s Dream: the Frog Mouth or Angler Catfish, Chaca bankanensis – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

The Natural Habitat
The waters in which the frog mouth naturally dwells are almost always located within rainforests, and are quite acidic and soft (“black water”, in the trade). This habitat supports far fewer species of bacteria than most, a fact that may explain this fish’s susceptibility to bacterial and other infections in captivity.Animals hailing from low-bacteria environments lack immunities to micro-organisms that are commonly encountered outside of their natural habitats. I have faced similar problems when rearing other animals from unique habitats – desert-adapted tortoises and penguins are both very delicate in this regard.

Establishing the Frog Mouth Catfish in the Aquarium
I strongly recommend using Marc Weiss Co. Keta-Peat Nuggets in the frog mouth aquarium. Added to the filter, this product will help soften the water, reduce bacterial and algal growth, and create a “black water” environment for your fish. Aquarium Pharmaceuticals pH Down will help to maintain an acidic environment. The waters from which this species originates average 3-4 in pH, but a pH of 6 works well in captivity.

Light and Shelter
The aquarium should be dimly lit, as the frog mouth naturally inhabits muddy waters and is uncomfortable in bright light.

A bed of oak leaves thick enough to hide the catfish is essential if it is to adapt and behave normally. The leaves mimic the cover under which this fish spends most of its time, and will also assist in maintaining a low pH. The frog mouth catfish is most comfortable at temperatures of approximately 77°F.

The frog mouth is a sizable fish that consumes large prey, and so likely produces a good deal of nitrogenous waste. Careful attention should be paid to filtration – the fact that it inhabits muddy waters does not indicate a tolerance for poor water quality. However, the filter’s outflow should be slow, as these fish are not strong swimmers and are native to still and slow- moving waters.

In terms of diet, the frog mouth is a fish specialist, although it has been reported to feed upon earthworms and tadpoles as well. Neither I nor those I have spoken with could induce it to accept earthworms, but an aquarist in Japan reported that her frog mouth fed readily upon freshwater shrimp.

As this fish is still considered a delicate captive, and rarely if ever spawned in captivity (the related Chaca chaca has occasionally been bred), you might consider adding aquarium fishes hailing from Southeast Asia to the diet, along with guppies, minnows, goldfish, platies, mollies and other easily bred species. Until we learn more about its needs, dietary variety will remain an important key in maintaining this fish in captivity.

Due to this specie’s extreme sensitivity to diseases and pathogens that might be carried, unnoticed, by other fishes, I pre-treat all feeder fish with Methylene Blue.

Research Needed
It has been reported, anecdotally, that the frog mouth catfish wiggles the barbels near its mouth in order to lure fish within striking range. Certainly the barbels do move about, but to my eye this seems to be a sensory rather than food-luring behavior. Documenting true luring, as in the manner of a marine anglerfish, would be an interesting project for the aquarist fortunate enough to acquire one of these fascinating animals.

The Standard Catfish Warning!
Please be aware that the spine next to the dorsal fin can inflict a painful wound.

We have a great deal to learn about this fascinating catfish and its relatives…please write in with any observations or questions you may have. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

You can read more about the natural history of this fish and view a picture at:


  1. avatar

    help,i am very up set due to my fishes behavior i have a 50 gal bow tank with 8 med size parrot fish asst colors their well but they seam to all ways be diging caves and hide their, what can i do to make them swim around tank in sted of hideing ,their great looking and i want to show them off but their hiding most of the time till i feed them,please help i desprate .henry

  2. avatar

    Unfortunately their is not much that you can do about their digging in the gravel. As with many Cichlids, the Parrot’s are nest builders, and the digging behavior is something that they naturally do. You could try to build structures with some rockwork that creates some caves and openings that the fish can go into, but that you can also easily see into. This way the fish get the nest that they are trying to build, and you can still see them.

    8 parrots is alot for a 50 gallon tank, they will outgrow this aquarium. Another trick that you can try is to remove some of the parrots, and replace them with a couple of other types of fish, that will not get too big. Sometimes adding other types of fish will cause the cichlids to be more active, and out in the open, as they guard their nests from the others.

  3. avatar


    Thanks for the great info. I have a frog mouth cat that lives with a bullhead_(brown?) of about same size as it. Both hide during the day and look ok, but if I put lights on at night I find the bullhead swimming around but the frog mouth in strange positions – up against glass, sort of standing on his tail.Food is gone in aM, I don’t see them eat, but only the bullhead seems to be getting fatter. Could they be fighting at night? Any information would be very helpful. Thank you,

  4. avatar

    Hello Susan,

    Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog, and congratulations on your choice of 2 most interesting fish that are not very commonly kept here in the USA.

    Unfortunately, they are best kept separately…despite being distantly related, their lifestyles and habitat preferences are quite different. Brown bullheads (or black, if that happens to be what you have) are largely nocturnal, although they will come out in the day to feed in time. In fact, they take readily to hand feeding – I know of a pond where they would come up to the surface to snatch bread from peoples’ hands, much like goldfish or koi!

    But most often they spend the day in hiding, and give the impression of being calm aquarium residents. Their demeanor changes after dark, when they become very active, and begin their seemingly unending quest for food. The bullhead’s movements alone will probably stress the very sedentary frogmouth, which does best when left undisturbed.

    Bullheads are also far more effective and aggressive in feeding than are frog mouths, and will likely consume most or all food before the frogmouth is even aware of its presence (frog mouth catfishes are largely “sit and wait” predators, and usually take only live food). The bullhead will quickly outgrow the frog mouth, and may even decide to sample one of his tank mate’s skin flanges as a meal. Bullheads of all species also tend to become territorial and aggressive towards other fish as they mature, and may attack animals larger than themselves.

    I suggest that you provide your bullhead with a separate aquarium of at least 20 gallon capacity, 30 if possible, and equipped with a strong filter. Room temperatures will suffice (they are active at a temperature range of 45-85 F, but do best at 65-75 F) You can, if you wish, train it to hand-feed and respond to a feeding cue, i.e. a tap on the glass. A night viewing bulb will allow you to observe your pet’s nocturnal activities.

    I have bred brown bullheads in outdoor ponds – the degree of parental care provided the young is amazing. Please write in again if you’d like further details.

    Good luck and thanks again,

    Frank Indiviglio

  5. avatar

    I have a chaca chaca catfish, and i have had him for almost 8 yrs, with almost no problems. i have read and learned that they change the ph balance as needed, to fit them. i started hand feeding earthworms, then moved on to rossy reds and now sm. gold fish. i have a 100 gal. tank with black sand, and he hides most of the time. i forgot to feed him for a week ot two and he started foating, with his head down and tail up, i thought i lost him but he came back after he started eating again.

  6. avatar

    Hi Mark,
    Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog and comment.
    Very good point concerning the pH adjustment. Water in aquariums housing frogmouth catfish often drops precipitously, in one case from 7-5.5 in a single week. There are a number of theories concerning chemical defense, habitat modification, etc., but so far nothing has been proven.

    My own experience with aquatic amphibians leads me to believe that the acidification of the water may largely be due to the effect of the fish’s waste products. I have seen similar pH drops when keeping large aquatic amphibians, such as Surinam toads and amphiumas. Most aquatic animals release nitrogenous wastes in a highly toxic form, as their watery environment negates the need for internal “processing” such as water –removal, etc. Good filtration and water changes are the rule with these animals.

    Frogmouth catfishes inhabit highly acidic waters in the wild, with pH values of 3-4 being recorded in some environments…levels that would kill most fish and all amphibians. However, the best policy is to adjust the pH upward, as you suggest, to 6-7.2, as we do not have enough information on the long term affects of very low pH in captivity.

    Concerning goldfish as a diet, I would just caution not to use these exclusively. Piscivorous reptiles and amphibians raised on goldfish only diets usually expire of liver/kidney malfunction after a few years (tests have tentatively but not positively linked this to Vitamin A excess). The problem disappears when goldfish are used in conjunction with minnows, shiners, platyies and other species. Minnows and shiners likely provide more balanced nutrition as well, as most in trade are seined fro outdoor ponds, where they feed on algae, insects and other natural food items.

    Please pass along any observations or questions. Thanks, best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Iwrote in about my frogmouth catfish before, thank you. I added a tank divider to separate him from my catfish, I’m cycling a new tank for the bullhead catfish and will move him soon. The frogmouth seems better, he now stays on the bottom and he is eating.
    I saw small red shrimps recently and would like to add them to my community tank, they were called cherry shrimps (freshwater).do you know if these can be mixed with platies, miollies and otjher peaceful fish? Thanks.

  8. avatar


    Frank Indiviglio here, thanks for your interest in our blog.

    I’m glad to hear of your success, and definitely a good idea to relocate the bullhead and not the frogmouth, as the former is a much more adaptable fish. Hagen’s Cycle is an excellent product in all situations but especially where time is a concern – it will drastically reduce the length of the cycling period.

    Cherry or Taiwan Shrimp, Neocaridina denticulate sinensis are favorites of mine; the color depth varies from young to female to male, but is always stunning. I’ve kept a breeding group for 2 years now – although they will take algae tabs, flake food and detritus, they really should be kept in a well-established aquarium with a thick growth of live plants and hair and other algae. They feed primarily upon algae, and rarely thrive in bare tanks, and they need quiet water – i.e. without strong currents. But that aside, they are very hearty and can be kept at a pH of 6.5-8, and temperatures of 70-82 F. Mine are maintained at 77 F, ph 7, and breed year round.

    As for keeping them with fish, I have found that they do very well with guppies, kuhli loaches, yo-yo loaches and armored cats, with even the young shrimps being un-molested. This may, however be due in part to the nature of the tank – live grasses fill it completely, to the point where the fish almost “push along” rather than swim, and so the shrimp have plenty of cover. When I added a single swordtail to the tank I noticed an immediate drop in the numbers of young shrimp (adults were not taken) and I think the same would hold true for mollies and platys.

    Please let me know if you need further information. Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    I recently got a really nice 5 inch chaca chaca catfish. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to want to eat. I raise my own feeder guppies and he doesn’t seem interested. Do you think that bottom feeding fish such as corys and or ghost shrimp might do the trick?


  10. avatar

    Hi Kenji-

    I would suggest trying worms or feeder shrimp first to see if he shows any interest. It may be that it just is not interested in guppies. Be sure to monitor water conditions too, to make sure there are no chemistry issues.

  11. avatar

    Hello again,

    Okay, I ran through the following list while trying to feed my chaca:

    Ghost Shrimp
    Rosey Reds
    Feeder Goldfish

    I treat all of these before feeding my chaca with a medicine bath. Yet he STILL won’t eat. What should my next move be? I check the water for problems and it seems to be fine. Do you think he’ll eventually eat something out of hunger or do you think he’ll starve to death? I’m getting worried.

  12. avatar

    Hello Kenji, Frank Indiviglio here. Nice to hear from you again.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that, in contrast to most predatory fishes, frogmouth cats are frightened rather than attracted by frantic movements of prey, especially in small aquariums. If you are not doing so, try habituating the feeder fishes so that they swim normally, and don’t add too many. Size is also important…frogmouths sometimes ignore overly-small prey items.

    You may need to look at the fish’s habitat in terms of security, as these fellows stress easily. They tend to “settle into” shelters as opposed to using caves and such. Oak leaves are ideal, but are not without some concerns. I’ve had some success with similar species by offering suction-cup equipped plastic plants (designed for reptiles) as shelters. By attaching the cup to the glass and weighing down the bottom, you can create thee type of shelters preferred by frogmouths (be sure to choose sufficiently large plant, as you’ll need extra foliage to work with.) Large floating plants are useful in limiting light exposure and can also be partially secured to the bottom to create a mat under which the fish can shelter.

    Even if water quality is ideal, slowly introducing Black Water Extract is a good idea. These fishes often inhabit murky waters, and may be ill at ease in clear water. Be sure also to utilize dim lighting…some folks use night viewing bulbs (designed for reptiles) with this and similar species, or avoid lights altogether. It is a good idea to set a timer on a small lamp in the room to go on and off before the main aquarium light, or to turn it on before using the room lights, so as to avoid startling the animal.

    Despite the frogmouth’s inactive lifestyle, it needs alot of room and fares poorly if crowded…please let me know your tank and fish’s sizes if you would like further information.

    I don’t believe that changing the species of fish offered would make a difference, but if all else fails you might try other types of fishes, especially differently shaped ones, i.e. kuhli loaches.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    thanks for posting the article, I enjoyed reading it. Do you have any advice regarding sexing Chaca?
    Mine eat earthworms, cherry shrimp and fish.
    Also are there any breeding reports for Chaca bankanensis?

  14. avatar

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the kind words; great to hear of your interest in this fascinating species. Some refuse shrimp and earthworms, so it seems you are doing well with yours.

    Males are longer and thinner than females, which tend to be broader in build and a bit shorter…but this is highly variable and works well only if you can see many together.

    I’ve not been able to find any captive breeding records; info on their reproduction in the wild is also scarce…just general comments in the books I have; I checked fishbase online but there are no recent updates, unfortunately. Chaca chaca has been bred at least once…no info as to any temperature or pH changes needed; eggs deposited in a PVC pipe (several adults in tank); male seemed to guard eggs; hatchlings took live brine as first meal.

    So…you have a great opportunity to make a name for yourself – I hope you do!. I’ll stay alert for useful info and will post or email..Please keep me posted, enjoy and have a happy, healthy New Year, Frank

  15. avatar

    hi her is a picture of my fish taken a while back while moving them from one tank to another, the container is 150 x 210 mm for ref, would you like to guess their sexes? 2m 1 f maybe?

  16. avatar

    Hello Joe,

    Nice fish! Difficult to be sure due to the fact that there’s individual variation – heavy males, thin females, etc., but on that photo alone, and if they are fully grown, I would go with your guess.

    Enjoy, please keep me posted, and Happy Holidays, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.