Looking to learn more about goliath tigerfish? You're in the right place! Here, we'll cover everything you want to know.
They have daggers for teeth. They can grow to the size of a small human. They can snap their prey in half with a single bite.
These are goliath tigerfish, a native species of Africa. They have a fierce appearance and an even fiercer reputation. They take a chunk out of the fishermen who try to catch them, and they're surrounded by evil myths. The tigerfish is one of the most scary animals I've discovered.
Here, however, we deal in facts. We leave the legends at the door. If you want to learn some real-life goliath tigerfish facts, here are a few to get you started.
31 Goliath Tigerfish Facts
1. What does the goliath tigerfish look like?
The goliath tigerfish looks like a regular fish on steroids. It's four times the size of a piranha, and it has a series of sharp, jagged fangs that stick out of its mouth.
Its scales are white, yellow, brown and gray with a golden flush around the face.
The eyes are all pupil, so it looks like the goliath tigerfish is constantly alert and ready to attack. The dorsal fin is upright, which might give you shark vibes. Three smaller fins are found below the belly.
2. How big is a goliath tigerfish?
You'd expect a fish with the name “Goliath” to be huge, and you'd be right. The goliath tigerfish measures anywhere from 4-5 feet long when fully grown.
3. How much does a goliath tigerfish weigh?
The goliath tigerfish weighs between 90-100 pounds (41-45 kg) . It's been suggested that females are smaller than males, but this is anecdotal data and not anything verified by researchers.
4. What's the biggest Goliath tigerfish on record?
Are you ready for this? The largest documented catch for the goliath tigerfish was 4.9 feet long and 154 pounds (70 kg). That's the size of a small adult! 😳
5. How did the goliath tigerfish get its name?
“Tigerfish” is a nickname given to several different species of African fish. They're all vicious, sharp-toothed creatures, so the ferocious name is fitting.
“Goliath” refers to the giant from the story of David and Goliath.
6. What is the goliath tigerfish Latin name?
The scientific name of the goliath tigerfish is Hydrocynus goliath. The first part is actually Greek instead of Latin, and it comes from the words hydr (water) and kyon (dog).
Fun fact: there are some French-speaking African cultures that call it a dogfish (poisson chien) instead of a tigerfish.
7. What other names does the goliath tigerfish have?
The goliath tigerfish is also known as the giant tigerfish and the giant African tigerfish. It's occasionally called a Mbenga after the evil spirits of local tribes.
8. Does the goliath tigerfish have any sub-species?
There is only one species of goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath). However, there are a few other tigerfish species (such as Hydrocynus vittatus) that occupy the same region and have the same physical characteristics as the goliath. You might consider them cousins.
9. Can you eat a goliath tigerfish?
Yes. Despite the danger that they present, goliath tigerfish are considered a valuable prize among fisherman.
Their size makes them a brag-worthy catch, and their bulk can feed an entire village in rural parts of Africa. They can be fried, filleted, baked and grilled. It's said that they have a similar taste to tilapia.
10. Are goliath tigerfish aggressive?
Yes. You don't want to mess with goliath tigerfish. They're known as a fierce, aggressive species with little fear of living beings.
Not only do they feed on other fish with their killer teeth, but there have also been rumors of goliath tigerfish attacking humans.
Their fury hasn't gone unnoticed, either. They've been mythologized in print as far back as 1949. Here's what the fisherman L.J. McCormick had to say about them:
“I have stated heretofore in print and am still ready to maintain my pronouncement, that the tigerfish of Africa is the fiercest fish that swims. Let others hold forth as advocates for the mako shark, the barracudas, the piranha of the Amazon, or the blue fish of the Atlantic. To them, I say ‘pish and tush.”
11. Do goliath tigerfish bite?
Yes. The teeth of a goliath tigerfish are its greatest weapons, and they use them with speed, power, and precision. They can slice their prey in half with a single bite!
They don't use their teeth for chewing, however. Once their victim is in pieces, goliath tigerfish swallow the parts whole.
12. How many teeth does the goliath tigerfish have?
We'll spare you the trouble of sticking your fingers into a razor-sharp mouth. The goliath tigerfish has 12-20 upper teeth and 8-14 lower teeth, and each individual tooth can be an inch long.
They're set at the edge of the jaw and protrude slightly because of the animal's lack of lips.
13. Can a goliath tigerfish kill a human?
Maybe. There have been many claims about man-eating tigerfish in Africa. None of them have been substantiated, so there's no definite proof that a goliath tigerfish can kill a human.
On the other hand, they're definitely a dangerous breed. Fishermen have lost fingers to the goliath, and there have been reports of swimmers and small children being attacked when they're in the water.
It's said that shiny objects are a particular draw for the fish; it's a custom in certain parts of the Congo to wear shiny objects like bottle caps because it's believed they ward off evil spirits, and these seem to catch the eye of tigerfish in particular.
It might be possible for a goliath tigerfish to kill a human. It might be an exaggeration that's just meant to scare or thrill people. We can't be sure.
14. How long do goliath tigerfish live?
In captivity, they live for 10-15 years. There hasn't been a lot of research into the goliath tigerfish, so we don't know how long that they can survive in the wild.
15. What eats a goliath tigerfish?
As apex predators, goliath tigerfish have no known enemies in the wild. They might fall victim to big creatures like crocodiles, especially when they're young and small, but this hasn't been caught on camera yet.
They do hide their eggs from predators, so hatchlings seem to be vulnerable in ways that adults aren't.
16. Is the goliath tigerfish endangered?
The goliath tigerfish isn't endangered. In fact, it's thriving! According to the IUCN, it's considered “least concern” on the extinction scale.
There are no restrictions around hunting or catching it, and it's even sold as a pet by some fish breeders.
17. What do goliath tigerfish eat?
Goliath tigerfish are piscivores, meaning that they eat other fish. They'll take down anything smaller than them, and since they're massive, their meals can be equally impressive.
They've been known to munch on catfish, angelfish, carp, cichlids, and gobies. They also feed on plankton when they're young.
18. How do goliath tigerfish find their prey?
They have excellent eyesight, so goliath tigerfish track their prey with their eyes. They also have the ability to detect low-level frequencies in the water, so when an unlucky fish is swimming nearby, the goliath tigerfish can sense them.
19. How do goliath tigerfish hunt?
Since they're strong swimmers, the goliath tigerfish do most of their hunting in fast, choppy currents. Smaller and weaker fish struggle to keep up with the water, so the goliath tigerfish can swoop in and grab them when they're vulnerable.
As for their hunting methods, it's believed that goliath tigerfish are ambush predators. They identify their target before they strike, and once they've made their move, they clamp down on their prey with powerful jaws and sharp teeth.
Goliath tigerfish have been known to cut a 60-pound catfish in half with a single bite, so it isn't often that a victim escapes them. Once they set their sights on their prey, it's all over.
20. Do goliath tigerfish migrate?
They don't seem to migrate during any particular season, but goliath tigerfish aren't afraid to follow a current for miles and miles.
21. Do Goliath tigerfish live in schools or swarms?
They're elusive creatures, so we can't be completely sure of their social habits, but it appears as though goliath tigerfish live alone. They've only been observed as solitary creatures. This makes them quite different from other tigerfish that live and hunt in groups.
22. Do goliath tigerfish carry disease?
Goliath tigerfish carry no known diseases. This doesn't guarantee anything since they haven't been researched to their fullest potential, but nothing is on record yet.
23. Are goliath tigerfish poisonous or venomous?
No. They have fearsome fangs, but goliath tigerfish don't use their teeth to inject anything into their victims. They don't even have venomous glands.
24. How long does it take a goliath tigerfish to reach full size?
It can take up to 10 years for a goliath tigerfish to become a true Goliath. They only grow around 4-6 inches per year, and this is assuming that they're in good health with an accommodating environment.
If they're being kept in sub-optimal conditions in captivity, their growth rate can suffer.
25. How do goliath tigerfish reproduce?
We don't know a lot about their reproductive habits in the wild, but goliath tigerfish seem to prefer the rainy season for mating.
They lay their eggs in underwater vegetation to hide them from predators.
The young hatchlings stay in the vegetation until the water level starts to recede and they're forced out.
26. Where does the goliath tigerfish live?
The goliath tigerfish is native to Africa. It has a small but varied distribution around the lakes and rivers of the Congo River Basin.
Some of its largest populations are found in Lake Upemba, Lake Tanganyika and the Lualaba River.
Goliath tigerfish live only in freshwater. And it is the only African freshwater fish known to attack humans.
27. What is the habitat of the goliath tigerfish?
While some species of tigerfish like to live deep underwater like murky, half-hidden monsters, the goliath tigerfish isn't that subtle. It lives closer to the surface.
28. Are there any superstitions surrounding the goliath tigerfish?
There are some African cultures that call the goliath tigerfish a Mbenga. This refers to the evil spirit that they believe is responsible for the animal's aggression.
According to legend, the spirit enters the goliath tigerfish and forces it to attack, and that's why they're so strong and ferocious. It's also considered bad luck to see a Mbenga at the start of a voyage.
When you look at the animal's biology, though, it's clear it isn't being influenced by a mysterious force; these fish are built for strength and force.
29. Has the goliath tigerfish been featured in any films or documentaries?
Yes. In the second season of River Monsters, host Jeremy Wade traveled to the Congo to catch a goliath tigerfish.
The episode was called “Demon Fish,” and he had such difficulty finding and securing the creature that he declared it “the ultimate river monster” out of everything that he'd documented before.
30. Where can I see the goliath tigerfish?
If you're hoping to catch a super-sized prize, you'll need to go to Africa. Goliath tigerfish don't breed in any lakes or rivers outside of the Congo River Basin.
If you want a pet, the goliath tigerfish is available for sale from exotic pet and aquarium shops. Taking care of them isn't easy, however, so you'll need to be really sure that you're committed to your purchase.
If you just want to observe goliath tigerfish, you can find them in many zoos and aquariums. There are live specimens in places like the Tennessee Aquarium and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and you can see a preserved fossil at the Smithsonian. Teddy Roosevelt caught it during a trip to Africa!
31. How do I take care of a goliath tigerfish?
Goliath tigerfish are definitely one-of-a-kind pets. Before you bring one home, however, you'll need to know a few things:
- They're an aggressive species with sharp teeth. No cuddles! This might sound obvious, but you're going to need to handle them, and they won't make it easy for you.
- They're illegal in some parts of the world. For example, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has declared the goliath tigerfish a prohibited species. You aren't allowed to buy, sell, own, or import them in the state of Florida.
- They're surprisingly sensitive. Goliath tigerfish need specific levels of oxygenation to thrive. They can also be fussy about things like light and temperature. They aren't a fish that you can stick in a bowl and forget; they'll need constant supervision.
- They require lots of space. Goliath tigerfish are usually sold when they're tiny things that are just 3-6 inches long. They grow slowly, so it'll be years before they become a three- or four-footer, but you'll need the space to accommodate this growth. They won't always fit into a regular fish tank. One day, they're going to need an outdoor pond.
- They can't be housed with other fish. Your goliath tigerfish will eat anything that you put in its water. It won't even hesitate. It'll think that you're delivering lunch!
My, What Big Teeth You Have
These are just a few goliath tigerfish facts that will help you understand them more. There are still many things about the species that are shrouded in mystery. But, hopefully, we've peeled back some of the myths surrounding the monsters. Who's afraid of the big bad tigerfish?
Did you learn anything new? Did we leave something out? Let us know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.