Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Schilbe mystus
(African butter catfish)



Schilbe mystus (African butter catfish)


  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Schilbe mystus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • African butter catfish
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • S. mystus is a catfish native to Africa. Only one recorded introduction, to China, is available. A previous introduction into the Congo River Basin, through natural diffusion from neighbouring countries, was ba...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Schilbe mystus Linnaeus, 1758

Preferred Common Name

  • African butter catfish

Other Scientific Names

  • Bagrus adansonii Valenciennes, 1840
  • Bagrus depressirostris Peters, 1852
  • Bagrus schilbeides Valenciennes, 1840
  • Bagrus schilbeoides Valenciennes, 1840
  • Bagrus schilboides Valenciennes, 1840
  • Eutropius adansonii Valenciennes, 1840
  • Eutropius altipinnis Steindachner, 1894
  • Eutropius congensis (non Leach, 1818)
  • Eutropius depressirostris (Peters, 1852)
  • Eutropius grenfelli (non Boulenger, 1900)
  • Eutropius lemairii Boulenger, 1900
  • Eutropius liberiensis (non Hubrecht, 1881)
  • Eutropius mentalis (non Boulenger, 1901)
  • Eutropius nilotica (Ruppell, 1829)
  • Eutropius niloticus (Ruppell, 1829)
  • Eutropius niloticus niloticus (Ruppell, 1829)
  • Eutropius obtusirostris Gunther, 1864
  • Hypophthalmus niloticus Ruppell, 1829
  • Schilbe auratus Joannis, 1835
  • Schilbe bipinnatus Ehrenberg, 1840
  • Schilbe bouvieri Rochebrune, 1885
  • Schilbe dispela (non Gunther, 1864)
  • Schilbe dispila (non Gunther, 1864)
  • Schilbe emini Pfeffer, 1896
  • Schilbe hasselquistii Valenciennes, 1840
  • Schilbe mystus fasciata Steindachner, 1870
  • Schilbe mystus fasciatus Steindachner, 1870
  • Schilbe niloticus (Ruppell, 1829)
  • Schilbe palmeri (non Svensson, 1933)
  • Schilbe senegalensis (non Gunther, 1864)
  • Schilbe senegallus (non Valenciennes, 1840)
  • Schilbe steindachneri Guimaraes, 1884
  • Schilbe uranoscopus (non Ruppell, 1932)
  • Silurus mystus Linnaeus, 1758

International Common Names

  • English: butter barbel; butter catfish; butterfish; mystus catfish; silver barbell; silver catfish
  • Arabic: shilba arabie; shilba seefarea; shilbaya aravbia; umm dankis

Local Common Names

  • Angola: kansema; zeza
  • Burkina Faso: gari; siyegwe; tidga
  • Chad: badigiri; doring; let; longre; zare
  • Denmark: Afrikansk smormalle
  • Finland: hopeamonni; viherkuultomonni; vihertaplalasimonni
  • Ghana: gada-sagbadakoe; gada-sofla; tasaa; tasaa
  • Malawi: dande
  • Namibia: silwerbaber
  • Nigeria: asan; balo; bambui; bou-anyi; elangi; harya; nalanga
  • Senegal: khele
  • South Africa: botterbaber; botter-baber; silwerbaber
  • Sudan: aglung; atyeno; cur; nzengenzenge; then
  • Sweden: silvermal
  • Tanzania: mtanda; nembe
  • Zambia: impata; lupata

Summary of Invasiveness

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S. mystus is a catfish native to Africa. Only one recorded introduction, to China, is available. A previous introduction into the Congo River Basin, through natural diffusion from neighbouring countries, was based on misidentification of S. grenfelli according to De Vos (1995). There are very few recorded impacts of this species.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Siluriformes
  •                         Family: Schilbeidae
  •                             Genus: Schilbe
  •                                 Species: Schilbe mystus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The genus Schilbe was originally described by Oken (1871) and was characterised by catfishes with an unusual compressed tapered body with a long anal fin, depressed head with large mouth, and a short, deep abdomen. It was separated from the similar genus Eutropius by the presence of a small adipose fin in the latter. However, this proved to be an unreliable character to separate the two genera because these traits are variously present in some Schilbe species such as S. intermedius.

The type specimen of the synonymized Schilbe genus was taken as Silurus mystusLinnaeus (1758), which was also taken as the type for Schilbe mystus (Fernholm and Wheeler, 1989; De Vos and Skeleton, 1990). Further examination of the Schilbe mystus type specimen by De Vos and Skelton (1990) revealed it to be conspecific with Schilbe niloticus (Rüppell, 1829). Therefore, because of binomen priority, the older name Schilbe mystus replaced Schilbe niloticus and the species that was mistakenly accepted as S. mystus was revalidated as S. intermedius Rüppell 1832.


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From Paugy et al. (2004):

The position of the anterior nostrils is closer to each other than are the posterior nostrils. The pectoral fin spine is strongly denticulate posteriorly. The nasal barbel reaches to the anterior eye margin, but never extends beyond the hind margin of eye. The mouth is sub terminal. There are 45-64 branched anal-fin rays and 9-14 gill rakers on lower limb of first gill arch. The adipose fin is always present. Rayed dorsal fin absent (De Vos, 1995). The maximum reported size is 350 mm SL. The head and the dorsal surface are brownish, the flanks and belly silvery-white and the fins are usually colourless.


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S. mystus is widely distributed in West Africa (Paugy et al., 2004) where it is found in the following river basins: Chad, Senegal, Corubal, Geba, Great Scarcies, Mano, Loffa, Moa, St. Paul, Volta, Mono, Ouémé, Ogun, Niger and Cross.

In Central Africa it occurs in the Cross Wouri and Sanaga basins, and in East Africa it is present in the Semliki River, Lake Albert and Albert Nile. In northern Africa it occurs in the Nile River, from the Nile Delta to Lake Nasse, the Baro River and Rift lakes, Ethiopia, as well as Lake Roseires on the Blue Nile.

Caution should be excised when examining the documented distribution records of the African butter catfish outside its native range, especially records attributed to southern Africa. This is because the southern African congener was previously known as Schilbe mystus, but was revalidated to Schilbe intermedius Rüppel 1832 (De Vos and Skelton, 1990), but documented occurrence records have not been changed to reflect this change in taxonomy.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


ChinaPresentIntroducedFAO, 1997Introduced from Sudan for aqualculture in 1976


BeninPresentNativeLévêque et al., 1991; Paugy et al., 1994Oueme River
Burkina FasoPresentNativeSenckenberg, 2013
CameroonPresentNativeTeugels and Thys, 1990; Vivien, 1991; Boden et al., 1997Sanaga River basin, Cross River at Mamfe. benue River, Lake Chad, Sanaga, in the coastal rivers of the west and probably in congo River. Confluensce of Djerem and Miyere Rivers. Rapids on Djerem River, Eololoma Island, Chutes of Nachtigal. Southern bank of Sanaga River at Nachtigal Falls
ChadPresentNativeDe Vos, 1986
CongoAbsent, invalid recordIntroducedOlatunde, 1977
Congo Democratic RepublicAbsent, invalid recordDe Vos, 1995; MCZ, 2013; Senckenberg, 2013
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeTeugels et al., 1988
EgyptPresentNativeIta, 1984Nile River, below the Aswan Dam
EthiopiaPresentNativeGetahun, 2007Rift Lakes and Baro drainage basins
GambiaPresentNativeNRM, 2013Gambia River drainage: Bansang area
GhanaPresentNativeIta, 1984; Teugels et al., 1988; Dankwa et al., 1999Tano River and Volta basin
GuineaPresentNativePaugy et al., 1994
Guinea-BissauPresentNativePaugy et al., 1994
KenyaPresentNativeAnonymous, 1999; NRM, 2013Kisumu area and Nyando River, Lake Victoria basin
LiberiaPresentNativePaugy et al., 1994Mano, Loffa and Saint Paul rivers
MaliPresentNativeMNHN, 2013; Senckenberg, 2013Bamako, Mali Niger River, Mtopti
MauritaniaPresentNativeMohamed Fall, 2005
NigerMNHN, 2013Middle/upper Niiger at Niamey
NigeriaPresentNativeReed et al., 1967; Olatunde, 1977; Adebisi, 1981; Paugy et al., 1994; Anonymous, 1998; Olaosebikan and Raji, 1998; MNHN, 2013Ogun River, and Ehoma floodplain, Afikpo Widely distributed in lake Kainji Wamako, Main Sokoto R., Nigeria Arungun, main Sokoto R. at Festive Site, Nigeria Kandoli Shela a tributary of Rima R. collected mostly around area of concrete v-notch
SenegalPresentNativeAdams-Sow, 1996; Diouf, 1996; MNHN, 2013Senegal River Dagana, Senegal
Sierra LeonePresentNativePaugy et al., 1994Moa River
SudanPresentNativeDe Vos, 1986Widespread in the Ghazal and Jebel systems, White and Blue Niles, Nile and Lake Nubia Common in Sudd lakes and the backwaters of river channels
TanzaniaPresentNativeEccles, 1992Lake Victoria, eastern rivers, inland drainage and Lake Rukwa
TogoPresentNativeLévêque et al., 1991; Paugy et al., 1994Mono River

History of Introduction and Spread

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There is limited information on the introduction of S. mystus into novel areas outside its natural distribution. The one recorded introduction was to China in 1976 from Sudan, by government authorities for aquacultural purposes. There is, however, no information on whether this introduction was successful. Previous reports of feral populations established in the Congo River Basin were based on misidentification of S. grenfelli according to De Vos (1995).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
China Sudan 1975-1999 Aquaculture (pathway cause)FAO (1997)
Congo Sudan unknown Interconnected waterways (pathway cause) Yes FAO (1997)


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S. mystus is a shoaling species that is normally found in open water of lakes and rivers where there is emergent or submerged vegetation. Its unusual body form (depressed head with large mouth, short deep abdomen, and compressed, tapered body with long anal fin) makes it well adapted to standing or running water.

Habitat List

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Lakes Principal habitat
Reservoirs Principal habitat
Rivers / streams Principal habitat
Ponds Principal habitat

Biology and Ecology

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Limited specific genetic work has been done on S. mystus. The only available work details the protein variation in several populations in Ghana (Gilbert and Bailey, 1972; Abban, 1988; Abban and Skibinski, 1988).

Reproductive Biology

S. mystus is potamodromous seasonal spawner that migrates into the tributaries of rivers and streams during the rainy season to breed. Females are generally larger than males, and the age of sexual maturity varies among systems, but in general females mature between 11-16 cm and males 12-15 cm TL. Females lay eggs on vegetation and form distinct breeding pairs (Breder and Rosen 1966).


S. mystus can live up to 6-7 years

Activity Patterns

S. mystus is potamodromous, migrating into the tributaries of rivers and streams during the rainy season to breed. It is generally more active at night or in subdued light.

Population Size and Density

Largely unknown, although some reservoir studies have reported it as a common but not abundant species (e.g. Olatunde 1977; Eccles 1992; Ochumba and Manyala, 1992; Baijot and Moreau, 1997).


S. mystus is an omnivore that feeds on a wide variety of foods including fish, insects, shrimps, snails, plant seeds and fruit (Whitehead, 1969; Adebisi, 1981; Hickley and Bailey, 1987). This reflects its ability to utilize a wide range of habitats, including open standing water and slowly flowing water, as well as shallow littoral areas with submerged or emergent vegetation.

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
Benthic crustaceans Adult
Fish Adult
Insects Adult
Mollusks Adult
Plants Adult
Shrimps/prawns Adult


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Crocodylus niloticus Predator not specific
Hepsetus odoe Predator All Stages not specific
Hydrocynus forskahlii Predator All Stages not specific
Lates niloticus Predator All Stages not specific

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Intentional Introduction

Introduced into China from Sudan for aquacultural purposes in 1976 (FAO, 1997). 

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
AquacultureIntentionallt introduced for acquaculture in China from Sudan in 1976 Yes FAO, 1997

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive


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S. mystus is a commonly-fished species and provides a food source for humans across parts of Africa. However, the economic, social and environmental impacts of S. mystus are largely unknown.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food

Uses List

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  • Pet/aquarium trade
  • Sport (hunting, shooting, fishing, racing)

Human food and beverage

  • Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)

Detection and Inspection

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S. mystus is easily recognized by its unusual compressed and a tapered body form, depressed head with large mouth, short deep abdomen and long anal fin. Rayed dorsal fin absent; adipose fin present (De Vos, 1995).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Within its native range, S. mystus can be distinguished from it congeners by the position of the anterior nostrils, which are closer to each other than posterior ones. In addition, the inner margin of the pectoral fin spine is strongly denticulate posteriorly and the adipose fin is always present.


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Abban EK, 1988. Taxonomy and biochemical genetics of some African freshwater fish species. Cardiff, UK: University of Wales. Ph.D. Thesis.

Abban EK; Skibinski DOF, 1988. Protein variation in Schilbe mystus (L.) andEutropius niloticus (Rüppel) (Pisces siluriformes) in the Volta Basin of Ghana, West Africa. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 19:25-37.

Adams-Sow A, 1996. Fish and Fisheries of the Senegal River (Poissons et Pêches du Fleuve Sénégal. Fédération des Paysans Organisés du Département de Bakel, Dakar, Sénégal). Dakar, Sengal: Farmers Federation Organisation of the Department of Bakel, 106 pp.

Adebisi AA, 1981. Analyses of the stomach contents of the piscivorous fishes of the upper Ogun River in Nigeria. Hydrobiologia, 79(2):167-177.

Anonymous, 1998. Fisheries statistical bulletin, Kainji Lake, Northern Nigeria, 1997. Nigerian-German Kainji Lake Fisheries Promotion Project Technical Report Series 9, 9:29 pp.

Anonymous, 1999. Fish collection database of the National Museums of Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: National Museums of Kenya.

Baijot E; Moreau J, 1997. Biology and demographic status of the main fish species in the reservoirs of Burkina Faso. In: Hydrobiological aspects of fisheries in small reservoirs in the Sahel region [ed. by Baijot, E. \Moreau, J. \Bouda, S.]. Wageningen, Netherlands: Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU, 79-110.

Bailey RG, 1994. Guide to the fishes of the River Nile in the Republic of the Sudan. Journal of Natural History, 28:937-970.

Boden G; Teugels GG; Hopkins CD, 1997. A systematic revision of the large-scaled Marcusenius with description of a new species from Cameroon (Teleostei: Osteoglossomorpha: Mormyridae). Journal of Natural History, 31:1645-1682.

Breder Jr CM; Rosen DE, 1966. Modes of Reproduction in Fishes. Jersey City, New Jersey, : T.F.H. Publications, 941 pp.

Dankwa HR; Abban EK; Teugels GG, 1999. Freshwater fishes of Ghana: identification, distribution, ecological and economic importance. Annales de la Musee Royale Afrique Central Tervuren, Sciences Zoologique, 283:53.

Diouf PS, 1996. University of Montpellier II. Theses and Documents Microfilms, 156. Paris, France: ORSTOM.

Eccles DH, 1992. FAO species identification sheets for fishery purposes. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Tanzania. Rome, Italy: FAO.

FAO, 1997. FAO database on introduced aquatic species. FAO database on introduced aquatic species. Rome, Italy: FAO, unpaginated.

Fernholm B; Wheeler AA, 1983. Linnaean fish specimens in the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 78(3):199-286.

Getahun A, 2007. An overview of the diversity and conservation status of the Ethiopian freshwater fauna. Journal of Afrotropical Zoology, Special Issue:87-96.

Gilbert CR; Bailey RM, 1972. Systematics and zoogeography of the American cyprinid fish Notropis (Opsopoeodus) Emiliae. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, 664:1-35.

Hickley P; Bailey RG, 1987. Food and feeding relationships of fish in the Sudd swamps (River Nile, southern Sudan). Journal of Fish Biology, 30:147-159.

Ita EO, 1984. Kainji (Nigeria). Status of African reservoir fisheries. CIFA Techncal Paper, 10:43-103.

Lévêque C; Paugy D; Teugels GG, 1991. Annotated check-list of the freshwater fishes of the Nilo-sudan river basins, in Africa. Journal of Afrotropical Zoology, 24(2):131-154.

Marshall BE, 2011. The fishes of Zimbabwe and their biology. Smithiana Monograph 3. Grahamstown, South Africa: South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

MCZ, 2013. Museum of Comparative Zoology. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University.

MNHN, 2013. Museum national d'Histoire naturelle. Fish collections of the National Museum Natural History.

Mohamed Fall KO, 2005. Fishes of Mauritania. Unpublished Compilation.

NRM, 2013. NRM-Fishes. Swedish Museum of Natural History. Accessed on 08/06/13 via

Ochumba PBO; Manyala JO, 1992. Distribution of fishes along the Sondu-Miriu River of Lake Victoria, Kenya with special reference to upstream migration, biology and yield. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 23:701-719.

Olaosebikan BD; Raji A, 1998. Field guide to Nigerian freshwater fishes. New Bussa, Nigeria: Federal College of Freshwater Fisheries Technology, 106 pp.

Olatunde AA, 1977. Studies on the biology of the family Schilbeidae. Reading, UK: University of Reading.

Oti EE, 2003. Studies on the ichthyofauna of Ehoma Floodplain, Afikpo Eastern Nigeria. Fish biodiversity: local studies as basis for global inferences, ACP-EU Fisheries Research Report, 14 [ed. by Palomares, M. L. D. \Samb, B. \Diouf, T. \Vakily, J. M. \Pauly, D.]. 123-131.

Paugy D; Lévêque C; Teugels GG, 2004. Fresh and brackish water fishes of West Africa (Poissons d'eaux douces et saumâtres de l'Afrique de l'ouest). Montpellier, France: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD).

Paugy D; Traoré K; Diouf PS, 1994. Ichthyological fauna of fresh waters of Africa West. Geographical overviews presented at the PARADI Symposium, Senegal, 15-20 November 1993. (Faune ichtyologique des eaux douces d'Afrique de l'Ouest.) Biological diversity of African fresh-and brackish water fishes, Annales de la Musee Royale Afrique Central Tervuren, Sciences Zoologique, 275:177.

Reed Burchard WJ; Hopson AJ; Jenness J; Yaro I, 1967. Fish and fisheries of Northern Nigeria., Nigeria: Ministry of Agriculture Northern Nigeria, 266 pp.

Senckenberg, 2013. Collection Pisces SMF.

Teugels GG; Lévêque C; Paugy D; Traoré K, 1988. State of knowledge on the fish fauna of coastal basins of Cote d'Ivoire and western Ghana. (État des connaissances sur la faune ichtyologique des bassins côtiers de Côte d'Ivoire et de l'ouest du Ghana.) Revue d'Hydrobiolgie Tropicale, 21(3):221-237.

Teugels GG; Thys van den Audenaerde DFE, 1990. Description of a new species of Bryoconaethiops (Teleostei: Characidae) from Nigeria and Cameroon. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwat, 1(3):207-212.

Vivien J, 1991. Faune du Cameroun: guide des mammiferes et poissons (Fauna of Cameroon: guide to mammals and fish). Paris, France: Ministere de la Cooperation, 271 pp.

Vos LDe, 1986. Schilbeidae. In: Check-list of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA), 2 [ed. by Daget, J. \Gosse, J. P. \Thys Audenaerde, D. F. E. van den]. ISNB, Brussels; MRAC, Tervuren; and ORSTOM, Paris, 36-53.

Vos LDe, 1995. A systematic Revision of the African Schilbeidae. Tervuren, Belgium: Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, 256-257.

Vos LDe, 2007. Schilbeidae. In: Fresh and Brackish Water Fishes of Lower Guinea, West-Central Africa [ed. by Stiassny, M. L. J. \Teugels, G. G. \Hopkins, C. D.]. 630-631.

Vos LDe; Skelton P, 1990. Name changes for two common African catfishes. Rehabilitation of Schilbe Intermedius Rüppell, 1832 (Siluriformes, Schilbeidae). Cybium, 14(4):323-326.

Whitehead V, 1969. Investigations into the food habits of some juvenile fish in the Volta Lake during the period from October 1969 to March 1969 with some notes on distribution and abundance. Investigations into the food habits of some juvenile fish in the Volta Lake. Accra, Ghana: University of Ghana.


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Belgium: Royal Museum for Central Africa, Leuvensesteenweg 13, 3080 Tervuren,


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09/12/13 Original text by:

Tsungai Zengeya, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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