Wallago attu

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Wallago attu
Wallago attu (1).jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Siluridae
Genus: Wallago
Species: W. attu
Binomial name
Wallago attu
Bloch & Schneider, 1801

Silurus boalis Hamilton, 1822
Silurus wallagoo Valenciennes, 1840
Silurus muelleri Bleeker, 1846
Wallago russellii Bleeker, 1853

Wallago attu is a freshwater catfish of Siluridae family, native to South and Southeast Asia. It is commonly known as helicopter catfish or wallago catfish. Some regional designations, such as the Indian Sareng, the Bengal Boal or the Malaysian and Indonesian Tapah are also occasionally used in English. W. attu is found in large rivers and lakes in two geographically disconnected regions (disjunct distribution), with one population living over much of the Indian Subcontinent and the other in parts of Southeast Asia. The species can reach a total length of 1 m (3 ft 3 in).[2]

It shares parts of its native range with the externally similar, but much larger Wallagonia leerii, and is subsequently often confused for it.

This catfish is one of the fish species that has been used as food in Southeast Asia since ancient times.[3]

Confusion with other catfishes[edit]

Wallago attu From Kerala, India

In many areas, Wallago attu is found alongside the externally similar and related catfish species Wallagonia leerii. In Indonesia and Malaysia, both species are referred to as ikan tapah, and in English, both are sometimes called helicopter catfish. Popular accounts such as media reports, claims by fishermen, or local folklore stories, and even scientific publications, often confuse the two or are altogether unaware of the difference. Therefore, claims exist that Wallago attu reaches lengths of more than 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) and weights of more than 45 kg (99 lb).[4] Biologists, however, are firm that it does not grow beyond a length of roughly 1 m (3 ft 3 in).[2] The current rod-and-reel angling record for a Wallago attu caught in the wild and authenticated by the International Game Fish Association is a specimen of 18 kg (40 lb) from the Vajiralongkorn dam reservoir in Thailand, while some specialized recreational catch-and-release breeding ponds in the region claim to harbour specimens in the 20–30 kg (44–66 lb) range.[5][6] It is thus assumed that reports about specimens even larger than that actually refer to Wallagonia leerii, which can grow to twice the length and several times the weight of Wallago attu.


Wallago attu lives through large parts of South and Southeast Asia. Its range, however, seems discontiguous with a significant gap between the population inhabiting the Indian subcontinent and the one found across mainland and insular Southeast Asia. W. attu thus stands as an example for a species with a disjunct distribution.[2]

On the Indian subcontinent, its range includes all the major rivers of India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, such as the Ganges, Indus, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna and Mahanadi as well as the island of Sri Lanka. To the Northwest, its range extends beyond Pakistan into Iran and Afghanistan. To the East, it can be found as far as the Irrawaddy river basin in Myanmar.[2][7][8][9][10][11]

The second population occurs in Southeast Asia and encompasses Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Here it inhabits the Mae Klong, Chao Phraya and Mekong drainages, as well as those of the Malayan peninsula and the islands of Java and Sumatra. It is absent from Borneo, which ichthyologist Tyson R. Roberts considers "surprising".[2]

The gap between the two populations is largely formed by the Salween and Tenasserim river drainages in Burma, where W. attu is not found. The reasons for this disjunct distribution are unknown.[2]

Biology and Ecology[edit]

As a large, predatory fish, W. attu maintains a largely piscivorous diet. Gut content analysis performed on specimens from the Godavari river in India shows that about 90 to 95% of the consumed food consisted of animal matter. Among the prey fishes most commonly found in the stomachs of Godavari river W. attu are razorbelly minnows (Salmophasia phulo), ticto barbs (Pethia ticto) and perchlets (Chanda nama), all of which are small species that reach maximum lengths of about 10–12 cm (3.9–4.7 in).[7]

Possible species splitting[edit]

The vast and disjunct distribution of W. attu has led to the assumption that it might in fact not be a single species. A preliminary bone-by-bone comparison of W. attu specimens from Southeast Asia and South Asia showed significant differences in their skeletal structure. It is thus assumed that pending further research W. attu may possibly be split into two or more species within the Wallago genus in the future.[2]

Cultural References[edit]

Following to some folklore in Malaysia, the descendant of a person called Tok Kaduk cannot eat and touch the fish because the legend says that a long time ago Tok Kaduk caught this Tapah and when he cut open its stomach, there was gold inside the fish so Tok Kaduk took the gold and stitched back the fish and released it back into the river. From that time, if the descendant came in touch with the fish their skin would become red and itching until they go to Kg Tua, Lambor Kanan near Bota in middle District of Perak, Malaysia to find the medicine. The medicine is remaining gold from the fish that has been kept to make the medicine for this disease. Some say that the gold needs to be soaked inside water and needs to be consumed by the patient and wash the areas that itch. Other stories have told that the Sareng will devour the carcass of humans that have been buried in the water, and it will take the human's soul to the gods.

The Malaysian town of Tapah and different tropical storms named Tapah have been named after this fish (or the identically named Wallagonia leerii).


  1. ^ Ng, H.H. (2010). "Wallago attu". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Roberts, T.R. (2014): Wallago Bleeker, 1851 and Wallagonia Myers, 1938 (Ostariophysi, Siluridae), Distinct Genera of Tropical Asian Catfishes, with Description of †Wallago maemohensis from the Miocene of Thailand. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, 55 (1): 35-47.
  3. ^ Charles Higham, A. Kijnga ed. The Origins of the Civilization of Angkor: Volume VI The Iron Age. page 43. IV 'The Fish Remains'
  4. ^ Sareng catfish aka Wallago Attu – Profile & Photos, Tankterrors.com. Retrieved on 03 July 2016.
  5. ^ "IGFA Online World Record Search, Wallago attu", International Game Fish Association. Retrieved on 03 July 2016.
  6. ^ "Current, Pending, and Catches Above the Current IGFA All Tackle World Records in Order of Size", Palm Tree Lagoon Fishing Park & Restaurant. Retrieved on 03 July 2016.
  7. ^ a b Babare R. S., Chavan S.P., Kannewad P. M. (2013): Gut Content Analysis of Wallago attu and Mystus (Sperata) seenghala, the common Catfishes from Godavari River System in Maharastra State. Advances in Bioresearch, 4 (2): pg. 123-128.
  8. ^ Singh Tarun Kumar, Guru Bhikari Charan, Swain Saroj Kumar (2013): Review of the Research on the Fish Diversity in the River Mahanadi and Identifying the Probable Potential Ornamental Fishes among them with reference to Threats and Conservation Measures. Research Journal of Animal, Veterinary and Fishery Sciences, 1 (3), pg. 16-24.
  9. ^ Suresh M. Kumbar, Swapnali B. Lad (2014): Diversity, threats and conservation of catfish fauna of the Krishna River, Sangli District, Maharashtra, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 6 (1).
  10. ^ K. Sankaran Unni (1996): Ecology of River Narmada. New Delhi: S.B. Nangia, pg. 289.
  11. ^ Brian W. Coad (2015): Native fish biodiversity in Afghanistan. Iranian Journal of Ichthyology, 2 (4), pg. 227-234.

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