Common name: Clown Knifefish
Synonyms and Other Names: Notopterus ornatus Gray, 1831. Clown featherback.
available through www.itis.gov
Identification: This species (along with other members of the family Notopteridae) can be distinguished from all North American native freshwater fishes by the long anal fin that is continuous with the caudal fin. See Roberts (1992) for recent revision, identification key, diagnostic and distinguishing characteristics, and photographs. He also discussed the different color varieties produced by artificial breeding.
This species is often incorrectly identified as Chitala chitala.
Size: To 100 cm SL and about 5 kg; slightly smaller in Florida.
Native Range: Tropical Asia. The Mekong and Chao Phraya basins of Indochina and Thailand (Roberts 1992). Laos (Baird et al. 1999).
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Puerto Rico &
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps
Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Chitala ornata are found here.
Table last updated 2/27/2023
† Populations may not be currently present.
Ecology: Clown knifefish is generally found around submerged structure (e.g., rocks, wood, aquatic vegetation) in lakes or deeper pools of rivers. Submerged structure is used as a daytime refuge as well as a spawning substrate. Reproduction occurs from March to July, with eggs deposited on submerged wood and guarding of eggs and fry performed by one of the parents. Clown knifefish are carnivorous, consuming crustaceans, insects, and fishes. This is a nocturnally active species (Poulsen et al. 2004)
Means of Introduction: Probable aquarium release.
Status: Established in Florida. Fewer than 100 individuals were collected between 1994-2003 (P. Shafland, pers. comm.), though many additional specimens have been caught since by both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and by anglers; its numbers appear to be steadily increasing (Shafland et al. 2008). Failed introduction in Missouri, and possibly failed in North Carolina: no further reports from the state, but Lake Norman contains several warm-water outfalls that could act as thermal refugia for this species (G. Bray, personal communication).
Impact of Introduction: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.
References: (click for full references)
Baird, I.G., V. Inthaphaisy, P. Kisouvannalath, B. Phylavanh, and B. Mounsouphom. 1999. The fishes of southern Lao. Lao Community Fisheries and Dolphin Protection Project. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR.
Berra, T. M. 1981. An atlas of distribution of the freshwater fish families of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Dobbs, T. 2013. Exotic fish found in East Montpelier Pond. Vermont Public Radio. Colchester, VT. http://digital.vpr.net/post/exotic-fish-found-east-montpelier-pond. Created on 11/07/2013. Accessed on 12/12/2013.
Hawkins, L. 1994. Central Florida: area report. Florida Fish and Game Finder Magazine. March, pp. 18, 20-21.
Poulsen, A.F., K.G. Hortle, J. Valbo-Jorgensen, S. Chan, C.K. Chhuon, S. Viravong, K. Bouakhamvongsa, U. Suntornratana, N. Yoorong, T.T. Nguyen, and B.Q. Tran. 2004. Distribution and ecology of some important riverine fish species of the Mekong River basin. Mekong River Commission Technical Paper No. 10. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Roberts, T. R. 1992. Systematic revision of the Old World freshwater fish family Notopteridae. Ichthyological Explorations of Freshwaters 2(4):361-383.
Shafland, P.L., K.B. Gestring and M.S. Stanford. 2008. Florida's exotic freshwater fishes - 2007. Florida Scientist 71: 220-245.
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus
Revision Date: 12/13/2013
Peer Review Date: 12/13/2013
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus, 2023, Chitala ornata (Gray, 1831): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=793, Revision Date: 12/13/2013, Peer Review Date: 12/13/2013, Access Date: 3/30/2023
This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.