Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)

The Royal Knifefish or Royal Featherback (chitala blanci) also known to tropical fish keeping enthusiasts as the Royal Clown Knifefish, Indochina Featherback, and Mekong Featherback is endemic to the Mekong river drainage in Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic as well as the Mekong delta region and Tonlé Sap lake system.

Royal Knifefish are found in fast moving waters among the rocky rapids and submerged woody areas of the Mekong river and it’s larger tributaries throughout it’s range. Unlike many of their cousins, they show a definite preference for rocky habitats in the deeper pools and rapids of moderate to fast flowing water, but during the high water spawning season, they move into the flooded forests to spawn.

Locals have reported spawning behavior over rocky substrates, with the parents providing parental care to the young.

Royal Knifefish closely resemble their more common cousins, the Clown Knifefish. They are identical in shape and have the same small dorsal fin, a “humped” appearance, very small scales, an elongated anal fin which continues into the caudal fin, and they have the ability to breathe atmospheric air.

Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)

Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)

The belly of the Royal Featherback is paler in color, and their flanks are a deep gray with distinctive darker speckled markings. A series of many small, dark spots on the anterior portion of their body merges to form a series of oblique, irregular stripes that extends onto the anal and posterior caudal fins.

Despite the fact that the Royal Featherback (chitala blanci) is currently listed as “near threatened” because of dam construction and other habitat alterations; in their natuiral habitat they can grow to almost 4 feet in length and are often seen in southern Lao PDR to Kratie, Cambodia markets where they are locally consumed as a food fish.

In Thailand’s markets, juvenile and sub adult Royal Knifefish that are mostly collected from Laotian waters are a popular aquarium species.

Because of their large size, Royal Knifefish need an extremely large aquarium of at least 300 gallon capacity which is why they are usually kept in public institutions.

Tropical fish keeping enthusiasts occasionally acquire Royal Knifefish and house them in a small tank but they will quickly outgrow their surroundings. Although they are a predatory species, they are generally peaceful towards nearly all of their tankmates too big to be eaten, however, they have surprisingly large mouths and can easily eat fish up to 1/3rd of their size.

If you have the means to keep one of these fish, they should be provided with a sandy or fine gravel substrate, plenty of rocks of various sizes (some fashioned into caves) or pieces of plastic tubing, and driftwood for them to use as a refuge, and a large mature filtration system that provides plenty of water movement.

They require pristine, highly oxygenated water with a good deal of movement, so a canister filter and a few power heads should be considered mandatory along with a rigorous maintenance regime comprised of weekly 50-70% tank volume water changes.

Royal Knifefish also require dim lighting and because they are prone to jumping, a tightly fitting tank cover. A mat of floating plants like Water Hyacinth is recommended to minimize their jumping activity.

Although there are no reports of Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci) being bred in captivity, in their natural habitat during the wet season, males construct a nest in flooded forest areas from driftwood branches and leaves, and after spawning will remain there to guard the eggs and the fry.

Royal Featherbacks are predatory nocturnal carnivores that in their natural habitat feed on smaller fishes, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. In an aquarium environment, they adapt well to live, fresh dead, and frozen alternatives.

Juvenile fish can be offered live, frozen, and sometimes freeze dried bloodworms, earthworms, ghost shrimp, chopped prawn, etc.

Adults should be provided strips of fresh fish flesh, live river shrimp, whole prawns, whole shrimp, mussels, larger earthworms, etc.

They will accept shrimp pellets and other carnivore prepared foods but it should not be their staple diet and they should never be fed “feeder goldfish” or any type of pork, beef, or chicken flesh. The lipids in meat from mammals and birds cause excess fat deposits and organ degeneration and consumption of “feeder fish” can infect them with parasites.

Royal Knifefish or Royal Featherbacks (chitala blanci) are occasionally available online from auction sites and from specialty importers at exorbitant prices as juveniles and adults.

Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)

Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)







Minimum Tank Size: 350 gallons
Care Level: Difficult
Temperament: Semi Aggressive
Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy as adults
Water Conditions: 75 – 85° F, 8-10 °d, 36 – 268 ppm, pH 6.5 – 7.2
Max. Size: 3′ 11″
Color: Silver, Bronze
Tank Compatibility: Aggressive to smaller fish
Diet: Carnivore
Origin: Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Laos
Family: Notopteridae
Lifespan: 8 – 13 years
Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced


One Response to “Royal Knifefish (chitala blanci)”


  1. […] fish keeping shops or from online suppliers.   The more uncommon and exotic specimens like the Royal Knifefish can be acquired directly from importers, online forums, online auction sites, […]

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