A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Eel-tailed catfish.
Also known as dewfish,
freshwater catfish.

Tandanus tandanus
Family: Plotosidae
Order: Siluriformes
Class: Actinopterygii

Eel-tailed catfish are often grey to olive brown with a spotty appearance, although colour can vary towards yellowish-orange or green, with a paler belly.

Juveniles may have purple and olive flecks.

They have a distinctive eel-like tail, skin without scales, and four sets of barbels (whiskers) around their mouth.

Eel-tailed catfish have sharp venomous spines on their first dorsal and pectoral fins, and these can easily cut you if you try to handle them.

They live in freshwater creeks, lakes, dams, and streams with fringing vegetation. They dwell and feed on the bottom of water bodies, and like areas that have gravel, sand, pebbles, or small river rocks and submerged plants that the young hide in.

They can be found in streams and water bodies along eastern Australia from Cairns down to New South Wales, and may live more than 20 years.

Because their numbers have dropped dramatically in parts of New South Wales, it is illlegal to take them from western flowing waters in NSW except from listed western impoundments.

In Calamvale Creek they are commonly about 40 centimetres (16 inches), although they can grow up to 90 cm (36 inches).

Usually loners, but may stay in small groups if suitable habitat is limited. Male is very protective of the nest.

Using our photos

Photos on this website are copyright. If you want to use any, email us at: creeklife@gmail.com

Cashmere's photos

Cashmere is one of a number of eel-finned catfish in Calamvale Creek.

You can sometimes see them in the pebbly shallows near the wooden bridge.

The photographer said:

“The eel-tailed catfish (Tandanus tandanus) in the creek seem to be a magnet to kids, who often try to catch them. Some have suffered wounds from touching the sharp spines on the catfish's fins.

eel-tailed_catfish_sidebar (6K)

“Like Elwood the eel, Cashmere was hard to photograph in the water.

“I had to get a time of day when the sun shone through the water and Cashmere was swimming in the right place, close enough to the surface to photograph.

“Even so, I took dozens of photos of the freshwater catfish so that I could get a few that turned out clear enough to be usueful.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Cashmere the eel-tailed catfish

Also known as
freshwater catfish, dewfish, jewfish, tandan, eel-tail catfish

Tandanus tandanus

eel-tailed_catfish_6 (39K)

Suffering catfish! It's hard trying to live a peaceful life and raise a family here in Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

An hour ago I had some crazy kids scaring the life out of me by throwing buckets in the water trying to catch me.

Now this photographer has turned up to get photos of me. What's next? Maybe the RSPCA will turn up and say my sharp dorsal spines injured one of the kids who were tormenting me.

At least the photographer is quiet and is leaving me alone.

Let me tell you something about eel-tailed catfish.

Distinctive features

eel-tailed_catfish_1 (41K)The first thing you'll notice is that I have prominent whiskers.

This doesn't mean I'm old, because these whiskers are actually called barbels, and they are extremely touch-sensitive.

They help me find food on the bottom of the creek, particularly when it is dark.

My other distinguishing feature is my tail, which is shaped like the tail of the long-finned eels in the creek.

What do I eat?

eel-tailed_catfish_3 (21K)Eel-tailed catfish generally feed on the bottom of the creek bed, especially at night.

It's at night that my barbels really earn their keep, being super-sensitive for detecting food.

I eat any little organisms I can find — small crustaceans, worms, aquatic insects and their larvae, molluscs, tadpoles, small fish, and snails.


eel-tailed_catfish_5 (45K)

Freshwater catfish start breeding when they are about 5 years old.

We breed in late spring to mid-summer, when water temperature rises to 20 degrees C or a little higher, and prefer to make a nest in lots of gravel, sand, and small river pebbles rather than in mud.

The male builds a circular metre-wide nest in still or slow-moving water a week or two before spawning, but if the water drops to a level that exposes the nest we will move on and find somewhere else.

We are very protective of the nest. If you come near the nest while the male is protecting it he will eventually slash you. He extends his fins and spines and will rapidly slide against you and slash you with his spines as he darts past.

eel-tail_catfish_2 (46K)

Our eggs take about a week to hatch, and we carefully guard them during this time so that predators don't get them.

When the young eel-tailed catfish are born they live among aquatic plants and under overhanging banks until they reach about 12 centimetres (5 inches). They form groups when young, but as they get older they live more solitary lives.

— Cashmere the eel-tailed catfish