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
  Freshwater Fishes and the Singaporean
Fish-keeping | Fishes in our culture | Fish as food | Role in the habitat

Freshwater fish play an important role in the lives of Singaporeans. One only needs to look at the small aquaria that form a part of the decor of numerous households. In many restaurants, one is all too often confronted with various freshwater fishes (e.g., Marbled Goby, Jelawat, Tilapia) featured on the menu.

In terms of the ornamental fish trade, Singapore is one of the world's leading exporters of ornamental fish, be they farm-bred or imported from neighbouring areas. In 1988, over 68 million Singapore dollars worth of fishes were exported. A large part of animal husbandry in agriculture here has been devoted to the culture of freshwater fish, both for food and ornamental purposes. The average Singaporean himself is an avid aquarist, to which the many thriving aquarium shops in the housing estates bear testimony.

photo of aquariumPeople keep fishes for various reasons, be it recreational, ornamental, cultural, economic or academic. On the recreational aspect, a well set up freshwater aquarium, with dense plant growth and colourful fishes is a pleasing sight. To some, it is more pleasant and soothing to the senses than sitting in front of a television set.

cartoon of fighting fishesOn the other extreme, there are fishes kept specifically for fighting.

The popularity of the Siamese Fighting Fish is a good example. Male fish are kept individually in small jam-jars, shielded from each other by pieces of cardboard to prevent them from exhausting themselves by trying to get at one another through the glass. Some people claim that the fish can be "trained" to be fierce fighters by keeping them in water soaked with dead leaves or "chilli-padi" (to improve its colour and/or ferocity), or some other secret concoctions. The fighting arena usually comes in the form of a simple wash basin. The fighters are only removed when one of the torn and tattered fishes, the loser, starts to flee for its life. In Thailand, the Pygmy Halfbeak, Whitespot and Croaking Gouramy are also used for such "sport". Often, gambling is also involved.

Freshwater fishes are not only kept in aquaria to provide recreation to the Singaporean. Various commercial fishing ponds, and certain reservoirs (e.g., Kranji) have been set aside for anglers. These are intentionally stocked with large fishes like carps, lampams, jelawats, giant gouramies, tilapias, marbled gobies and snakeheads. On the other extreme, many Singaporeans also visit large canals, streams or fish ponds with simple hand nets and plastic bags. Guppies, mollies, snakeheads and some of the more common fishes are gathered this way. This can be a rather dangerous pastime for some children have lost their lives in canal water this way.

As the standard of living for most Singaporeans has increased over the years, it is not surprising to find the more sophisticated aquarists searching out for those weird-looking and often highly-priced fishes to adorn their private aquaria.

To cater to this demand, many fish shops are no longer solely dealing with "common" or "bread and butter" fishes like guppies and tiger barbs, but have improved the range of their stocks to include some expensive foreign "oddballs", as well as fancy pedigree breeds of goldfish and koi.

In recent years, the feeder fish industry has also been growing, catering to aquarists who keep predatory fishes like the Oscar Cichlid (Astronotus ocellatus), Dragon Fish, Arapaima, etc. The fishes in this industry are mainly mollies and guppies (with the occasional tilapia). They are obtained mostly by catchers who scour the drains and canals for these fishes, which can be very abundant in some places. Rejects (deformed, drab or potentially unsaleable animals) from the goldfish and tropical fish breeding farms also are used as feeder fish to a large extent.

Several species of fish (e.g., the Snakeheads and Walking Catfish) are regarded as pests in ornamental fish farms and ponds because they are predators. Although these can be sold as food, the damage they cause before they are caught can be astronomical, especially if valuable fishes like koi or high grade goldfishes are eaten.
On 31st March 1962,
Singapore's postal services
released a series of 7 fish stamps
to highlight the diversity
of the native ichthyological
fauna of Singapore.
4 of the species were from
estuarine or freshwater habitats.

postage stamp
Two-spot Gouramy

postage stamp
Archer Fish

postage stamp
Harlequin Rasbora

postage stamp
Six-banded Barb
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