Goliath Tigerfish

Hydrocynus goliath

Last updated: April 24, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

Featured in River Monsters TV series

Goliath Tigerfish Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Characiformes
Family
Alestidae
Genus
Hydorcynus
Scientific Name
Hydrocynus goliath

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Goliath Tigerfish Conservation Status

Goliath Tigerfish Locations

Goliath Tigerfish Locations

Goliath Tigerfish Facts

Prey
Catfish, carp, cichlids, other small fish
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/School
Fun Fact
Featured in River Monsters TV series
Estimated Population Size
unknown
Biggest Threat
Sportfishing
Most Distinctive Feature
32 long, sharp teeth
Other Name(s)
Demon fish
Water Type
  • Fresh
Optimum pH Level
7.0 – 7.8
Habitat
Lakes, rivers, larger streams
Predators
Humans, crocodiles
Diet
Carnivore
Common Name
Giant tigerfish, Mbenga
Number Of Species
1

Goliath Tigerfish Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Silver
  • Olive
Skin Type
Scales
Weight
90-100 pounds
Length
4-5 feet

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Some people call the Goliath Tigerfish a “fish on steroids” or the African version of the piranha.

Whatever you call it, the Goliath tigerfish is one scary animal. These strong fish are considered demon fish by some African tribespeople. While some aquarists keep them as exotic pets, it’s best to know how to handle them before taking the plunge.

5 Incredible Goliath Tigerfish Facts!

  • Owning a Goliath tigerfish in some parts of the world is illegal, including in Florida, where you can’t buy, sell, own, or import them.
  • They are sensitive to things like oxygenation, light, and temperature.
  • One of its names, M’Benga, means “the dangerous fish” in a Swahili dialect.
  • Some Swahili tribespeople believes that the M’Benga evil spirit enters the tigerfish, causing it to attack people.
  • Their bite force allows them to cut their prey in half easily.

Goliath Tigerfish Classification and Scientific name

Goliath tigerfish are the largest members of the five species in the genus Hydrocynus. The first part of its scientific name, Hydrocynus goliath, comes from Greek, meaning hydro (water) and kyon (dog). However, some French-speaking African cultures call this fish Poisson Chien (dogfish) instead of tigerfish.

Goliath Tigerfish Appearance

Goliath tigerfish are primarily olive on top and silvery on the bottom, but you will also find gradations of yellow, brown, and gray with a golden appearance around their faces. They also have an upright dorsal fin and three smaller fins below their bellies. Fully grown tigerfish are four to five feet long and weigh 90 to 100 pounds. Each tooth in the Goliath tigerfish’s mouth can be up to seven inches long, rivaling the size of teeth in many sharks.

Goliath Tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) caught in Congo on the Congo river. Fully grown Goliath tigerfish are four to five feet long and weigh 90 to 100 pounds.
Goliath Tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) caught in Congo on the Congo river. Fully grown Goliath tigerfish are four to five feet long and weigh 90 to 100 pounds.

iStock.com/David_Pibrac

Goliath Tigerfish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

This tigerfish species lives in larger rivers and lakes in the Congo River basin, including Lualaba River, Lake Upemba, and Lake Tanganyika. Africa is their sole habitat. Their exact population is unknown, but as they are numerous in their native habitat, their conservation status is of least concern.

Goliath Tigerfish as Pets

Experts recommend that only experienced aquarists keep Goliath tigerfish as pets in a home aquarium because of their aggressiveness. They are usually sold as juveniles, only three to six inches long, yet they require a large tank to grow properly. As these fish mature, you may have to eventually move them from an aquarium to a pond. Nevertheless, they won’t reach their biggest size as they would in the wild. You should not keep Goliath tigerfish with other smaller fish as they will view their tank mates as food and eat them. They require water that is well oxygenated with a moderate to strong current as they are sensitive to water quality.

Goliath Tigerfish Predators and Prey

Goliath tigerfish are apex predators, meaning they have few animals who hunt them. When hunting, Goliath tigerfish use calmer eddies of rivers and lakes to ambush their prey. While these fish use their keen sight to detect their meals, they also have a unique ability to detect low-level frequencies allowing them to sense when prey is nearby. Scientists also believe these fish use their powerful bite force to stun and kill their prey. They don’t use their massive teeth for chewing. Once they kill their prey, they swallow it whole. They hunt catfish, angelfish, cichlids, and gobies.

Goliath Tigerfish vs. Crocodile

Although one is a fish and the other is a reptile, Goliath tigerfish and crocodiles share several characteristics. Both are fierce predators known to attack humans. They also have sets of long, pointed teeth. However, freshwater crocodiles are much bigger and stronger than Goliath tigerfish. The size of freshwater crocodiles averages from six to ten feet, while Goliath tigerfish top out at about four to five feet. In a fight between two fully grown animals, the crocodile would win due to its sheer size and strength, but not before losing a few pieces of its skin. Crocodiles will generally play a waiting game with Goliath tigerfish before planting a conclusive bite to kill the latter.

Goliath Tigerfish Reproduction and Lifespan

Not much is known about how Goliath tigerfish reproduce as scientists have not studied the species extensively. They usually spawn during summer when they find suitable breeding grounds, usually flooded riverbanks, and shore. When they find a suitable spawning ground, female Goliath tigerfish can release up to 780,000 eggs at once. They tend to hide their nests in underwater vegetation, indicating juvenile tigerfish vulnerability. The hatchlings stay there until water levels force them out. Baby tigerfish feed on plankton and slowly graduate to larger prey as they get older. Goliath tigerfish grow slowly at only four to six inches per year, so they can take up to 10 years to reach their full size. Breeding them in an aquarium is virtually impossible, so all Goliath tigerfish sold as pets are caught in the wild.

Goliath Tigerfish in Fishing and Cooking

Goliath tigerfish are considered a sportfishing species primarily. However, these giant fish can feed an entire African village when caught for food. They are whitefish, so their meat is tender and tasty. They are often grilled, fried, baked, and prepared in a similar manner to tilapia. Goliath tigerfish are strong fighters considered to be prized gamefish. They take almost any kind of bait and repeatedly jump when hooked, so a wire leader is necessary due to their sharp teeth.

Goliath Tigerfish Population

There are no specific figures on how many Goliath tigerfish exist in the wild. However, as their IUCN (Internation Union for Conservation of Nature) red list status is of least concern, one can assume that there are sufficient numbers of these fish in the wild. However, at the same time, local officials in Africa advise sport fishers to release Goliath tigerfish when possible.

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Goliath Tigerfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do Goliath tigerfish eat humans?

Although there are stories about Goliath tigerfish killing and eating humans in the Congo, none have been substantiated. However, these fish have been known to attack humans, causing substantial wounds due to their bite force. Shiny objects worn by humans may prompt Goliath tigerfish to attack.

How big do Goliath tigerfish get?

As the largest member of the tigerfish family, they can reach a length of four to five feet and weigh as much as 90-100 pounds.

Is the Goliath tigerfish a piranha?

Goliath tigerfish are often considered a bigger and deadlier version of the piranha, yet they are two different species that are distantly related.

What is the biggest Goliath tigerfish ever caught?

The largest one on record weighed 154 pounds.

What do Goliath tigerfish eat?

Goliath tigerfish are piscivores, meaning they will eat other fish. In the wild, they eat catfish, angelfish, carp, cichlids, and gobies.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrocynus_goliath
  2. Everywhere Wild, Available here: https://everywherewild.com/goliath-tigerfish/
  3. River Monsters, Available here: https://river-monsters.fandom.com/wiki/Goliath_Tiger_Fish
  4. KnowledgeNuts, Available here: https://knowledgenuts.com/goliath-tigerfish-of-the-congo/
  5. Roaring Earth, Available here: https://roaring.earth/goliath-tigerfish/
  6. Big Fishes of the World, Available here: http://bigfishesoftheworld.blogspot.com/2011/11/goliath-tigerfish-hydrocynus-goliath.html
  7. Aqua Imports, Available here: https://www.aqua-imports.com/product/goliath-tiger-fish-hydrocynus-goliath/
  8. Aquarium Part, Available here: https://aquariumpart.com/goliath-tigerfish/#:~:text=large%20frozen%20shrimp.-,Life%20Span,predators%20and%20hunting%20by%20humans.
  9. NYK Daily, Available here: https://nykdaily.com/2020/08/fight-in-the-wild-series-goliath-tigerfish-vs-nile-crocodile/
  10. Unbelievable Facts, Available here: https://unbelievable-facts.com/2017/01/goliath-tigerfish.html
  11. Animal-World, Available here: https://animal-world.com/encyclo/fresh/characins/AfricanTigerFish.php
  12. Springer, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00005052
  13. Our Marine Species, Available here: http://ourmarinespecies.com/c-fishes/african-tigerfish/
  14. Total Fisherman, Available here: https://www.totalfisherman.com/tiger_fish.html

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