The Terrible Tigerfish of The Congo

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” —Werner Herzog

In A Nutshell

The scary-sounding name “characin” is the fish order defined by living in fresh water, shoaling habits, and truly wicked teeth. Piranhas are the most notorious characin, but another, far more deadly characin stalks the Congo River. The Goliath tigerfish grows to around 1.5 meters (5 ft) in length, and makes its piranha relative look like an aquarium guppy. This pack-hunting “super piranha” is feared as a potential man-killer.

The Whole Bushel

Characins are a large group of mostly tropically bony fish. Endemic to fresh water, these fascinating creatures are defined by their teeth and fluorescent colors as much as any trait. As well as the infamous piranhas, many familiar aquarium fish such as the neon tetra are, in fact, characins, armed with multitudes of little razor teeth. Piranhas have terrible teeth, but they can still be considered relatively small fish.

When characins get truly big and evolve to become mega-predators, the results may be nothing short of nightmarish. The king of characins makes the piranha look like a pet goldfish. It is terrible water beast and a magnificent animal worth protecting. In the whitewater sections of Africa’s Congo River, the Goliath tigerfish is found. Weighing up to 50 kilograms (110 lbs) and measuring around 1.5 meters in length, this enormous, green, yellow, and brown fish with shimmering scales is massive and powerful enough to take on nearly anything it encounters.

Like its giant piranha relative, this it is a shoaling species, making the verdict even more damning for its prey. The ferocious fish sports teeth so enormous they appear to be lion’s fangs attached to the huge, but eerily typical-looking giant fish. Each tooth may measure over 3 centimeters (7.5 in) in length. The fish uses the same shimmering scales of its prey as a signal to attack.

Unfortunately, humans wearing or holding anything remotely shiny or bright near the water may become targets. One individual is scary enough, but when an entire shoal of 50-kilogram “water tigers” attacks a visitor, the verdict seems dim. A number of gruesome attacks have been alleged, and the creature is thought to have dragged unfortunate rivergoers to their death. The most disturbing case involved a river boating accident, where victims disappeared under somewhat perplexing circumstances. As top predators, these monster fish are still important, stabilizing elements of the river ecosystem.

Show Me The Proof

Never Swim in the Congo: Goliath Tigerfish
Animal Planet: Goliath Tigerfish

  • Hillyard

    This is why I stay out of rivers. The Donaubad is good enough for me.

  • inconspicuous detective

    good lord.

  • The Goliath Tigerfish has been featured on River Monsters. It is, indeed, an awesomely fearsome fish. There are plenty of other terrifying fish, as well, and with any luck more of them will get a spot here on KN.

    • Efamore

      I LOVE River Monsters! Jeremy makes me want to be an extreme angler myself. I’m a marine biology major and I had honestly never even heard of a tigerfish before seeing that episode. You’d think such a fearsome predator would be well-known but guess not. I
      think it’s incredible that they thrive in whitewater areas of the river. What a way to live! That fish is hardcore!

      • River Monsters always makes me want to take up extreme angling, too 🙂 Fun show, informative, educational, even exciting.

  • Viktor von Gerdenheim

    Each tooth may measure over 3 centimeters (7.5 in) in length


    Error in conversion. 3 cm is only 1.2 inches, not 7.5.

  • Aangina

    terrible writing. you people get paid, no?

    • Christopher Stephens

      Your comments are subjective and not very helpful. In fact, many people enjoy these lists because of the type of facts present.
      Your sentence is terrible, not even capitalized in fact. Errors happen, but they are always worth noting for further editing and future reference. Anyway, I usually get overwhelmingly positive comments on my contributions.

      • Aangina

        I’m not the one writing an article for a “knowledge” based website… Contribution? please. I’ve seen this fish listed on at least two other lists as well as multiple tv shows.

        • Ryan

          That doesn’t mean everyone knows about them.

    • Efamore


    • Hadeskabir

      You use this site for free, no?

  • firefly

    Jeezuz that is a nasty looking fish.

  • murk

    “Each tooth may measure over 3 centimeters (7.5 in) in length.”, did you mean 3 inches (7.5 cm)?. And the exact conversion is 3 in = 7.6 cm.