Goonch Catfish | 10 Amazing Facts About Scary-looking Fish |

Goonch catfish, or so-called man-eating catfish, is a scary-looking river monster with sharp teeth and big eyes.

It doesn’t look like a regular fish as it has a long body and a giant flattened head with three pairs of barrels.

According to locals, the Goonch catfish has attacked and eaten people in India.

They deserve more recognition because of their enormous size and their surprising man-hunting behavior, according to locals.

Although these fish are known for their man-eating traits, we still know little about these catfish.

We have gathered every single detail about these giant monsters in this article so that you can learn more about Goonch catfish.

Goonch catfish

What is Goonch Catfish?

Scientifically named as Bagarius yarrelli, Goonch catfish is a member of the Sisoridae family and known by many names such as:

  • Giant devil catfish
  • Giant painted catfish
  • Killer catfish
  • Sand shark
  • Goonch (Hindi)
  • Baghar (Bengali)
  • Baghair (Bengali)
  • Gauns (Rajasthani)
  • Gorua 
  • Baghmas  and
  • Bodh 

Goonch catfish is a giant-sized catfish native to the river bed of South Asia. This fish is found in the rivers in the Indian subcontinent, specifically in the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus basins.

They were thought to exist in the Mekong-Chao Phraya basin in Thailand and Xe Bang Fai of Laos.

But according to a 2021 study, experts found out both catfish are new species ( B. vegrandis, Bagarius lica).

The exact distribution of these fish is unknown because they are believed to inhabit other parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia as well.

However, they are reportedly found in India and Nepal, especially in the Great Kali River.

How Goonch Catfish looks like

It is a river monster of enormous size.

They are said to be able to grow up to 6 meters (20 ft), but currently, they can only be found in the length of 3 – 4 meters (10 – 13 ft).

Shape and Color

Goonch catfish have a typical body shape for a giant catfish with a big flattened head. These fish have three pairs of barbels, with the nasal pair being the longest.

They also have sensory pores on their head, giving them a real catfish feel.

Although the color of catfish is similar to that of other fish, it has some unique characteristics.

They have a pale grayish to yellowish-brown color with a pale belly. Their body is decorated with dark spots and blotches, which vary from each individual.

Their body is scale-less, and their jaws are lined with sharp teeth. The pectoral, dorsal, and caudal fins have a dark edge.

Their large head is flattened at the top with a triangular shape. This fish can be easily identified by the three pairs of barbels, which are usually thicker at the base and nearly equal in length.

Their eyes are small with a gray iris, while the mouth is terminal with a broad lower jaw and thin lips.

Their outer row of teeth is long and narrow, while the inner set is relatively short and broad. 

Size of the fish

They are a huge catfish species. Most of the Goonch catfish are around 2 m (6.6 ft) in length, but they are believed to grow more.

This big size provides them enough power to drag their prey along with the river current.

How much they weight 

It has a weight comparable to that of a newborn baby elephant, around 100 kilograms (220 lbs). 

Life span

The exact lifespan of these fish is not known yet. However, captive-bred specimens only live for about 5 to 10 years.

Male and female fish 

They have no sexual dimorphism, so male and female fish are the same in appearance. 

Where Goonch Catfish live?

They inhabit large rivers with a temperature of 18 -23 °C (64.4-73.4°F).

They usually reside in pristine habitats with a pH range from 7.2 – 7.6 and water hardness of 4-10 °d. It prefers to live in rivers with fast currents, especially in deeper pools.

They never inhabit small streams. They are abundant in the Great Kali River.

Goonch Catfish behavior

They are carnivore and benthic feeders. Prey includes smaller fishes, crustaceans, amphibians, and invertebrates that live near the river bottom.

They also eat human corpses if they are available. These fish can be very dangerous because of their large size and power to attack any living thing that enters the water.

These fish are known to attack humans, and at least three deaths in India have been attributed to Goonch attacks.

Despite their size, they are very strong and fast swimmers, which helps them catch their prey. They are voracious eaters as well.

What do Goonch Catfish eat

People once thought that Goonch catfish feeds on human flesh. However, this allegation has yet been proved.

They feed on smaller fishes, crustaceans, amphibians, and invertebrates that live near the river bottom. If they are hungry, they will eat human corpses.

Goonch catfish have enormous mouths which can easily swallow a significant part of their prey. They capture fish by suction and drag them to the bottom during feeding.

Goonch Catfish breeding

There are no documented reports of mating or breeding of these fish. Therefore, no one knows how exactly these fish reproduce.

Generally, catfish reproduce by spawning. They spawn before the arrival of the monsoon when rivers swell and become turbid.

People have observed them in large groups in this time frame and believe that they are mating.

Importance of Goonch Catfish

Ecosystem balance

It is a very large species of catfish that lives in the deep waters of rivers. Their existence provides balance to the ecosystem by keeping other species in control.

Goonch catfish are one of the super-predators in the river ecosystem. So, they are kept in nature reserves so that they can keep the ecological balance intact.

Fisheries and Aquaculture

Goonch catfish has a fair demand in the local market. Local fishers catch this fish for food and commercial purpose.

They are also exported to other countries from India for commercial aquariums.

Do Goonch catfish eat humans?

Since Moonch catfish are giant predatory fish, they are also accustomed to eating human corpses (which are common in rivers of India due to their religious belief).

While there is no documented evidence of Goonch catfish attacking humans, at least three deaths in India have been attributed to Goonch attacks.

Although it is doubtful, locals have claimed several human attacks by these fish. However, there are no recent proven cases of humans being killed by Goonch catfish attacks.

Historically there are three reported cases of Goonch catfish attacks. The attacks took place in three different villages between 1988 to 2007.

The man-killing fish was claimed to live by the banks of the river Kali that flows through India and Nepal.

The first documented case was in Nepal. In April 1988, a 17-year-old boy named Dil Bahadur was dragged underwater in front of his girlfriend at 1:00 pm by a Goonch catfish.

The second was a little boy who was dragged beneath the river water in front of his father, approximately three months after the first Goonch Catfish Attack.

The final victim was a Nepalese teenager of 18 who was pulled into the river by an “elongated pig.”

What was terrifying was that non of the bodies have found afterward. All the 3 cases mentioned above were claimed to live near the Kali River of Nepal and adjoining part of India.

Also, the attacks are believed to have taken place in March or April before the arrival of the monsoon.

Goonch Catfish Facts

  1. Although these fish have a fierce reputation, these fish are caught for food and aquarium trade by the locals.
  2. The biggest officially recorded Goonch catfish caught was 6.5 feet long and 230 pounds in weight. It was captured by the Biologist Jeramy Wade from “River Monsters” tv show. However, he also claims that he saw much larger Goonches weighing between 800 and 2,000 pounds and couldn’t catch those giants.
  3. According to local reports, there were even bigger Goonch catfishes caught for food. One Bangladeshi news source reported a 308-pound Goonch catfish along with photos in 2017.
  4. These creatures are frequently encountered in the region of rivers where Hindu funeral pyres are disposed of. They explore around these areas to consume charred human body parts.
  5. The scientific name Bagarius derived from the local name for these fish Vaghari, in Calcutta.
  6. Goonchs are skilled at “locking” their position on the riverbed once hooked. They accomplish this by squeezing their bodies, fins, and heads against or under immovable riverbed rocks. Once a large Goonch is “locked down” in this manner, no amount of rod and line tugging can move it.
  7. People think that Goonch fish are slow movers because of their giant size. But, in reality, they can move really fast as they have impressive strength.

Are Goonch catfish edible?

Goonch catfish is edible and marketed as food fish in the local market.

However, the flesh is not highly esteemed because it spoils rapidly and causes illnesses. Goonch catfish are said to have fibrous flesh.

What kind of fish are Goonch Catfish?

Goonch catfish is a large species of catfish found in rivers of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It belongs to the family Sisoridae and the genus Bagarius.

Are Goonch Catfish rare?

Goonch catfish are not rare and are still abundant in their natural habitats. However, overfishing them has caused a decline in these fish.

Therefore, they were classified as “Vulnerable” in IUCN Red List in 2019.

Where do Goonch Catfish live?

Goonch catfish live in the rivers of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. They inhabit freshwater rivers, streams, and ponds.

Are Goonch Catfish poisonous?

Goonch catfish are not poisonous and are edible. However, their flesh spoils rapidly and causes illness to the human consumers. Goonch catfish is commercially marketed as food fish in the local market.

Conclusion 

Goonch catfish are one of the largest catfishes in the world. They are well known as man-eating catfish because of their disturbing recorded history.

However, these fish are caught by locals for food and for the commercial aquarium trade. Goonch catfish are non-poisonous and edible, but their meat spoils rapidly, which causes illness.

Credit to : Ohio Fish Rescue
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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.