Goonch Catfish

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Goonch Catfish

Bagarius yarrelli

Last updated: April 24, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Arunee Rodloy/

The goonch catfish, or giant devil catfish, is one of the most fierce freshwater fish.

Goonch Catfish Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Bagarius yarrelli

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Goonch Catfish Conservation Status

Goonch Catfish Locations

Goonch Catfish Locations

Goonch Catfish Facts

Fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and invertebrates
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
The goonch catfish, or giant devil catfish, is one of the most fierce freshwater fish.
Biggest Threat
Most Distinctive Feature
Large size
Other Name(s)
Giant devil catfish, river monster
Optimum pH Level
None known
Common Name
Goonch catfish
Number Of Species

Goonch Catfish Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Tan
  • Green
Skin Type
Up to 200 lbs
6 1/2 feet

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View all of the Goonch Catfish images!

The goonch catfish, or giant devil catfish, is one of the most fierce freshwater fish.

This fish has no natural predators, and has, in the past, terrorized villages with its attacks on villagers and large mammals drinking and bathing.

The largest attacks, known as the Kali River attacks, occurred between 1998 and 2007. The attacks in this timeframe all came along three villages along the Kali River. The largest attacks were on a water buffalo and two separate adult men. A young boy was also the victim during this series of attacks.

It may seem incredible that such a monster can be kept in a home aquarium, but it is possible. The fish comes in a range of sizes, and the smaller, dwarf variety is suitable for home fishkeeping, as long as you have an adequate tank size and are an experienced fishkeeper.

The tank size should be at least 180 gallons and have a strong current. The fish is predatory and aggressive so even with a larger tank size, expect any companions, particularly other bottom dwellers, to be harassed and possibly eaten.

One look inside the mouth of the pet goonch and you will see the many rows of razor-sharp teeth meant for killing and eating live prey. Over time, they can learn to eat frozen meaty food, but they will not lose their aggressive tendencies.

Three Goonch Catfish Facts

  • The Goonch catfish has mucus-covered skin rather than scales
  • Goonch catfish are popular exhibits in aquariums
  • Goonch catfish have four rows of sharp teeth

Goonch Catfish Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name for the goonch catfish is Bagarius yarrelli. It is also known as the giant devil catfish and river monster due to its size and strength. There are five subspecies within the Bagarius genus. B. yarrelli was once thought to be different than B. bagarius, the dwarf goonch catfish, but in 2021 it was confirmed these two are the same species.

Goonch Catfish Appearance

The goonch catfish has a large, flat head that holds a powerful jaw and four rows of razor-sharp teeth. The fish has three sets of barbels, with the longest being the nasal set.

Its coloring is brown, tan, or green, with black edging on the dorsal, caudal, and pectoral fins and black patches on the body. They have a white underbelly.

Goonch Catfish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

The goonch catfish prefers swiftly-flowing currents and lives in mountainous rivers, such as the Great Kali, Ramganga, and Brahmaputra Rivers, in India and Nepal. They are probably located in other areas of South and Southeast Asia.

The goonch catfish’s conservation status is listed as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List.

Goonch Catfish Predators and Prey

The goonch catfish has no natural predators. Habitat changes caused by humans are the greatest threat to their existence.

The goonch catfish eats a wide range of smaller fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and invertebrates. They are known to be aggressive. Goonch catfish kept in aquariums are often kept alone due to their aggressive behavior.

Goonch Catfish Reproduction and Lifespan

Little is known about the reproduction and lifespan of the goonch catfish.

Goonch Catfish in Fishing and Cooking

Bringing in a goonch catfish is a challenge. Once you have one on the line, it is common for the fish to anchor itself to the river bottom. Attempting to wrestle it to the surface doesn’t work, instead, patience and careful maneuvering allow you to encourage it into shallower waters. Once there, be prepared to get wet as you wade in to bring it to the surface.

Goonch Catfish Population

The exact population of the goonch catfish, considered a vulnerable species, is unknown.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I’ve always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It’s my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Goonch Catfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the biggest goonch catfish ever caught?

The largest Goonch catfish ever caught was caught in India, in the River Ramganfa. It was over five feet long and weighed 165 lbs, 5 ounces. It is believed there are much larger goonch catfish that haven’t been officially recorded.

Are goonch catfish deadly?

There have been cases of goonch catfish attacking and killing humans. This is a rare occurrence and developed after goonch catfish developed a taste for humans due to corpses being dumped in the river after funerals.

The largest attacks by these fish brought down a water buffalo, which can weigh over 1000 pounds. While these attacks were frightening for those who lived in the area, they are not a common occurrence.

Do goonch catfish eat humans?

Not typically, but there was a period when bathers were dragged underwater in a river in India. After narrowing down the suspects, it was determined that large goonch catfish, who had become accustomed to eating partially burned human flesh that was dumped in the river from funeral pyres, were attacking humans who entered the water.

What do goonch catfish eat?

In addition to fish, the goonch catfish eats amphibians, crustaceans, and invertebrates.

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