Freshwater, sometimes brackish; Africa to Southeast Asia.
Maxilla toothed; anterior prongs of the swim bladder pass forward to the ear lateral to the skull (intracranially in Xenomystus and Papyrocranus) (also true for mormyrids); anal fin long (94-141 rays or 100 or more rays in anal and caudal combined) and confluent with a reduced caudal fin; dorsal fin small to absent; pectoral fin rays 11-17; pelvic fins small (3-6 rays) to absent; sub-opercular absent; lateral line scales 120-180; ventral scutes 25-52; vertebrae 66-86. Body color uniform, with numerous small spots, with wavy stripes, or with large ocellated spots above anal fin. Length perhaps up to 1.5 m in Chitala chitala and C. lopis.
Four genera and eight species (Roberts, 1992).
Chitala. Craniodorsal profile concave (vs. convex, straight, or slightly concave). Formerly ranked as a subgenus of Notopterus. Four species, Pakistan and India to Sumatra and Borneo.
Notopterus. Mandible with two rows (vs. one or none) of strongly developed serrations. One species, southern and Southeast Asia from India to Sumatra and Java.
Papyrocranus. Pelvic fin absent (vs. present with 3-6 rays); well-developed intracranial extensions of the swimbladder. Two species, West Africa, primarily from Senegal to Nigeria, and the Congo Basin.
Xenomystus. Dorsal fin absent (vs. present with 6-11 rays along a short base); branchiostegal rays 3 (vs. 6-9); gill rakers rudimentary (vs. 10-15). One species, tropical Africa (primarily Nile, Chad, Niger, and Congo basins).
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