field guide to the freshwater fishes of singapore

Index of fishes
General parts of a fish
Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
  cartoon of catfish reading the guidebookHow to use this guide

This guide has been conceived as a guide to Singapore freshwater fishes, and not as a guide to popular aquarium fishes. There are simply too many aquarium fishes to make this task possible. The primary function of this guidebook is to document in colour Singapore's natural freshwater fish heritage. Many of the more common aquarium fishes however, are native to Singapore and are treated here.

The term "primary freshwater fish" is used here for fishes which spend their entire lives in freshwater. Only the native primary freshwater fish species will be comprehensively treated here. We have included several brackish species (e.g., scats) as they are very commonly 20 encountered especially in canals and freshwater aquaria. Some fishes however, seem to be equally adept at surviving in 100% pure water as they are in estuarine waters. We have used two categories here:
Primary freshwater fishes and
Euryhaline fishes.
In general, the biology of all species are listed in the following order: freshwater or euryhaline; length; egg layer or live bearer; feeding habits; schooling tendencies; level of water it prefers; whether it is native, introduced or feral; how common it is; and its main habitats.

More species of euryhaline fish can be found in "A Guide to Seashore Life' by Tan & Ng (1988).

The water level at which the fishes are most commonly found is also stated. Benthic fishes hug the bottom, and some even burrow beneath it. Pelagic fishes are free swimming and may be near-bottom, midwater or surface dwellers. Some fishes are "loners" by habit whereas others school, i.e., have gregarious habits.

We intend the book to be more than just a guide to focal fishes. We have included many aspects of interest to laymen and students alike, including a sprinkling of local folklore. Common English, Malay and Chinese names have also been collated for reference. Some fishes are so poorly known that no common English, names are available . For completeness, names have been coined for them.

In some cases, it is not easy to determine if some species are native to Singapore as they are found in neighbouring countries. A "calculated guess" based on our experience with these fishes thus has to be made. Many aquarium fishes have inadvertently escaped over the years, but most have failed to breed locally. Feral species are those introduced fishes which are known to have succeeded in breeding and establishing themselves in the wild here. Those which are found from time to time, but which have not been known to breed here are listed as introduced. There have been many unconfirmed records from Singapore as well, and we have presented some of the ones likely to have been missed.

The reader must forgive us if we are unable to give precise areas in Singapore where many of the rarer or more interesting fishes can be found. This is purely for the fishes' sake. There are unscrupulous people who might well take the opportunity to catch them for a quick profit, oblivious to their possible extinction.

All measurements given are of the total length (i.e., measured from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail). They are of local fishes, and it must be noted that some can grow to larger sizes in other countries. For the larger genera, general notes are given for all the species included in it to reduce repetition. The places the various groups are found are always given, and unless otherwise stated, represent their natural distributions, before man came onto the scene.

The classification used in this book follows that recommended by modern ichthyologists, and thus may differ from those of "traditional wisdom". While some changes in names are due to subjective decisions by experts, others (e.g., for the Coolie Loaches Acanthophthalmus vs. Pangio), were based on incorrect past procedures and necessitate change. There have been a proliferation of popular aquarium books in recent years, and the reader's confusion is understandable if some of these names conflict. The authors however, prefer to adopt names based on published literature with good reasons rather than on more popular "makeshift" classifications.

The authors have not used any Orders in the text as there is some disagreement as to how they should be classified. To avoid confusion, only families and sometimes subfamilies are used. Families always end in "-idae" whereas subfamilies end in "-inae". Names ending in "-id" and "-ine" refer to their respective families and subfamilies. The term "sp." is short for species, and is used when the animal in question cannot be confidently identified down to the exact species.

The reader may also be puzzled as to how each species name is derived. There are international guidelines for this. Usually, species named after a man will end in "-i" (e.g., Leptobarbus hoeveni) whereas names following women end in "-ae". In some cases, scientists use two "i's", e.g., Rasbora einthovenii. We always follow the name first proposed as far as possible. If named after a place, we usually add the suffix "-ensis", e.g., Rasbora bankanensis named after the Sumatran island of Banka. In descriptive names, whether the name ends in "-a", "-us" or "-urn" depends on the gender of the genus name. They must correspond. For example, confusion is frequent with the Soon Hock- is it to be Oxyeleotris marmoratum, O. marmoratus or O. marmorata? All these names have been used at one time or other. As Oxyeleotris is regarded as feminine, the correct name should be marmorata. We have tried our best to use the proper gender for our names.
Freshwater habitats
Fishes in Singapore
Amazing Fishy Facts
About the guidebook
From A Guide to Common Freshwater Fishes of Singapore by Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
Published by the Singapore Science Centre and sponsored by BP

@Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Singapore Science Centre