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Temporal range: 70.6–0 Ma Late Cretaceous to present
Chitala ornata.jpg
Chitala ornata
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Osteoglossiformes
Suborder: Notopteroidei
Family: Notopteridae
Bleeker, 1859

See text

The family Notopteridae contains 10 species of osteoglossiform (bony-tongued) fishes, commonly known as featherbacks and knifefishes. These fishes live in freshwater or brackish environments in Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

With the denotation of "knifefish", the notopterids should not be confused with Gymnotiformes, the electric knifefishes from South and Central America. Although their manner of swimming is similar and they are superficially similar in appearance, the two groups are not closely related.

A few of the larger species, especially Chitala ornata, are food fish and occasionally aquarium pets. The name is from Greek noton meaning "back" and pteron meaning "fin".


The earliest fossils of this family are of Notopteridarum and Notopterus from the Late Cretaceous of India, about 70.6 to 66 million years ago. These fossils originate from the Rangapur microvertebrate site and Naskal microvertebrate site of Andhra Pradesh, which are part of the Intertrappean Beds.[1]


Featherbacks have slender, elongated, bodies, giving them a knife-like appearance. The caudal fin is small and fused with the anal fin, which runs most of the length of the body. Where present, the dorsal fin is small and narrow, giving rise to the common name of "featherback". The fish swims by holding its body rigid and rippling the anal fin to propel itself forward or backwards.[2]

Notopterids have specialized swim bladders. The organ extends throughout the body and even into the fins in some cases. Although the swim bladder is not highly vascularised, it can absorb oxygen from air and also functions to produce sound by squeezing air through a narrow passage into the pharynx.[2]

At least some species prepare nests and guard the eggs until they hatch.[2]


The 10 species in four genera are:[3]


  1. ^ "Fossilworks: Notopteridae". Retrieved 2020-11-30.
  2. ^ a b c Greenwood, P. H. & Wilson, M. V. (1998). Paxton, J. R. & Eschmeyer, W. N. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0-12-547665-5.
  3. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2021). "Notopteridae" in FishBase. July 2021 version.

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