The Clown Knifefish, Chitala ornata, is native to Indochina, but has been found in South Florida starting in the 1990s. It is established in Palm Beach and possibly Broward counties, Florida, so it has been identified as an invasive species to Florida. Many Clown Knifefish in South Florida died during the unusually cold winter weather of 2010 and 2011, but the species now appears to be expanding its range.
The Clown Knifefish is a popular aquarium fish, but can grow to over 3 feet long. It is also a popular food fish in its native range, so it’s unclear which route brought it to Florida’s waterways.
This freshwater fish is nocturnal and known to eat any live prey (usually other fish) that it can fit in its mouth. Here in Florida it prefers canals, reservoirs or ponds with little to no current and some vegetation or debris to hide in.
This is just one species featured in the new comprehensive book “Fishes in the Fresh Waters of Florida“. Learn more about how the book’s photography was achieved, and why our biologists focused on photographing live fish: