The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

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).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

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.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL199420215Everglades; Florida Southeast Coast; Lake Okeechobee; Oklawaha; Tampa Bay
NY201720171Lake Erie
NC200220021Upper Catawba
TX199219932Lower Brazos-Little Brazos; South Concho
VT201320131Winooski River

Table last updated 6/12/2024

† 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:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...


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.

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. 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.

FishBase Summary

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

Revision Date: 12/13/2013

Peer Review Date: 12/13/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus, 2024, 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: 6/12/2024

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.


The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [6/12/2024].

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For general information and questions about the database, contact Wesley Daniel. For problems and technical issues, contact Matthew Neilson.