A-z - Animals

Goliath Tigerfish

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Some people call goliath tigerfish "fish on steroids," or Africa's version of piranhas.

No matter what you call it, the Goliath tigerfish is a scary animal. These hardy fish are considered devil fish by some African tribes. While some aquarists keep them as exotic pets, it's best to know what to do with them before venturing out.


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5 Unbelievable Goliath Tigerfish Facts!

  • Possession of Goliath Tigerfish is illegal in some parts of the world, including in Florida, where you cannot buy, sell, possess, or import them.
  • They are sensitive to factors such as oxygenation, light and temperature.
  • One of its names, M'Benga, means "dangerous fish" in the Swahili dialect.
  • Some Swahili tribes believe that the M'Benga evil spirit entered the tiger fish causing it to attack people.
  • The force of their bite allows them to easily cut their prey in half.
Goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) caught in the Congo on the Congo River. A fully grown Goliath tigerfish is four to five feet long and weighs 90 to 100 pounds.
A fully grown Goliath goby is 4-5 feet long and weighs 90 to 100 pounds.


scientific name

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

evolution and origin

Goliath tigerfish are members of the Alestidae family, which is found only in Africa and includes Congo tetra and African tigerfish. It belongs to the order Characiformes, which includes more than 2,000 different species, and its oldest member, Santanichthys, dates to the Early Cretaceous (Albian) period, between 113 million and 100.5 million years ago.

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The Goliath goby is believed to have split off from the Hydrocynus goby approximately 11 million years ago and created its own separate lineage.

congo-tetra-swimming-blue background
Goliath tigerfish belongs to the same family as Congo tetra.



Goliath tigerfish are predominantly olive on top and silver on the bottom, but you will also find gradations of yellow, brown, and gray with gold around their faces. They also have an upright dorsal fin and three smaller fins below the belly. Fully grown tiger fish are four to five feet long and weigh 90 to 100 pounds. Each tooth in the Goliath tigerfish's mouth can be up to 7 inches long, about the size of many shark teeth.

The goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) is a very large African predatory freshwater fish belonging to the Alestidae family. Distributed in the Congo River Basin and Lake Tanganyika.
Each tooth in the goliath's mouth can be up to seven inches long.

©Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com


This tiger fish lives in the larger rivers and lakes of the Congo Basin, including the Lualaba, Lake Upemba and Lake Tanganyika. Africa is their only habitat. Due to their abundance in their native habitat, their conservation status is of least concern.

Experts recommend that only experienced aquarists keep Goliath tigerfish as pets in home aquariums due to their aggressive nature. They are usually sold as juveniles, only three to six inches long, but they need a large tank to grow properly. As these fish mature, you may eventually have to transfer them from the aquarium to the pond. However, they do not grow to their full size as they do in the wild. You should not keep Goliath Tigerfish with other smaller fish as they will see their tank mates as food and eat them. Because they are sensitive to water quality, they need water that is well oxygenated with moderate to strong currents.

Goliath tigerfish are predominantly olive on top and silver on the bottom, but you will also find gradations of yellow, brown, and gray with gold around their faces.
Goliath Tigerfish should only be kept as pets by experienced aquarists.



Goliath tigerfish are apex predators, which means few animals can hunt them. When hunting, Goliath tigerfish use the calm eddies of rivers and lakes to ambush their prey. While these fish use their keen eyesight to detect their prey, they also have a unique ability to detect low frequencies that allow them to sense when prey is nearby. Scientists also believe that these fish use their powerful bite force to stun and kill their prey. They don't use their huge teeth to chew. Once they have killed their prey, they swallow it whole. They prey on catfish, angelfish, cichlids and gobies.

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The goliath tigerfish's diet includes fish such as cichlids.

©Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com

Predators and Threats

Although one is a fish and the other is a reptile, Goliath tigerfish and crocodiles share several characteristics. Both are ferocious carnivores known to attack humans. They also have several sets of long, pointed teeth. However, freshwater crocodiles are larger and stronger than Goliath tigerfish. The average size of a freshwater crocodile is 6 to 10 feet, while the Goliath tiger fish can reach a maximum size of 4 to 5 feet. In a fight between two fully grown animals, the crocodile would win by virtue of its size and strength, but not until it lost a few patches of skin. Crocodiles often play a waiting game with Goliath tigerfish before killing the latter with a single bite.

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Crocodiles like the West African slender crocodile are stronger predators than the Goliath tigerfish.

©Michal Sloviak/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Little is known about how the goliath tigerfish reproduces because scientists haven't studied the species extensively. They usually lay their eggs during the summer when they find suitable breeding grounds (often flooded river banks and coasts). When they find a suitable spawning ground, female goliaths can lay as many as 780,000 eggs at a time. Their tendency to hide their nests in underwater vegetation suggests that juvenile goby are vulnerable. The hatchlings will stay there until the water level forces them out.

Small tigerfish feed on plankton and gradually become larger prey as they age. Goliath tigerfish grow slowly, only 4 to 6 inches per year, so it can take up to 10 years for them to reach their maximum size. Keeping them in an aquarium is nearly impossible, so all Goliath tigerfish sold as pets are wild-caught.

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Goliath tigerfish tend to hide their nests in underwater vegetation.

© iStock.com/TatianaMironenko

Goliath Tigerfish in Fishing and Cooking

The Goliath Tigerfish is primarily considered a sport fishing species. Yet these giant fish can feed entire African villages when caught. They are whitefish, so the meat is tender and tasty. They are usually grilled, fried, baked and prepared in a similar manner to tilapia. The Goliath tigerfish is a powerful fighter considered a prized gamefish. They can use almost any kind of bait, and will jump repeatedly after taking the bait, so due to their sharp teeth, the use of a guide is required.

Goliath tigerfish are cooked in the same way as tilapia.

© nednapa/Shutterstock.com

Population and Protection

There are no specific figures on how many Goliath tigerfish are in the wild. However, due to their status on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern, it can be assumed that there are sufficient numbers of these fish in the wild. In the meantime, however, local officials in Africa are advising anglers to release Goliath tigerfish when possible.

ICUN classifies Goliath tigerfish as Least Concern.

©Tobias Arhelger/Shutterstock.com

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Although there are stories of goliath tigerfish killing and eating people in the Congo, none of them have been confirmed. However, these fish have been known to attack humans, causing serious injuries due to the force of their bite. Shiny objects worn by humans may prompt goliath tigerfish to attack.

The largest members of the tigerfish family, they can reach lengths of four to five feet and weigh 90-100 pounds.

Goliath tigerfish are often considered larger, deadlier piranhas, but they are two distantly related species.

The largest ever recorded weighed 154 pounds.

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