Chitala ornata
Chitala ornata
(Clown Knifefish)
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Chitala ornata (Gray, 1831)

Common name: Clown Knifefish

Synonyms and Other Names: Notopterus ornatus Gray, 1831. Clown featherback.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

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).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: A single fish (56 cm TL, 1.6 kg) was taken in early 1994 by an angler from a small lake south of Winter Garden in Lake County, Florida (Hawkins 1994; W. Icenhour, personal communication). A population of clown knifefish inhabitants Palm Beach County, Florida where the species was first recorded in 1994 (W. Courtenay, personal communication). It ranges from Lake Mangonia, about 4 km North of the West Palm Beach Canal South through the El Rio Canal (E-4), Lakes Osborne and Ida to the Delray Canal (C-15), a distance of 36 km (Shafland et al. 2008). A single individual was also collected in Crescent Lake, St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, FL. A single fish was collected from Norman Reservoir on the Catawba River, North Carolina in 2002 (G. Bray, personal communication). A single fish was also found at January-Wabash Park in Ferguson, Missouri (R. Wilfong, personal communication). A single specimen was found dead by an angler at North Montpelier Pond, Vermont, in November 2013 (Dobbs 2013).

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: Unknown.

Remarks: This is an important food fish in Thailand (Berra 1981) and a popular aquarium fish in the United States. Anglers target the Palm Beach County population for sport, sometimes with guides specializing in non-native fishes. Voucher specimens: The Florida Lake County record is supported by a photograph in Hawkins (1994); the collector's father related that the specimen was made into a trophy mount (W. Icenhour, personal communication).

Voucher specimens: UF 120072.

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. 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.

Other Resources:
FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus

Revision Date: 12/13/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus, 2017, Chitala ornata (Gray, 1831): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 12/13/2013, Access Date: 11/22/2017

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.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [11/22/2017].

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