How Much Wood Would a Catfish Chuck?

Oh those beautiful armored catfish. When they aren’t invading Florida’s ecosystems and causing me headaches as a naturalist (don’t release your Plecostomus!), they are rather lovely and highly varied creatures swimming natively within the Amazon floodbasin. And the Amazon, as we fish-nerds well know, is one of nature’s hot zones for fish evolution.

As a high school student I was obsessed with one particular genus of Cichlidae, the Apistogramma and their seemingly endless forms. It didn’t hurt that this group is also beautiful, small enough for aquaria, and have mesmerizing courtship and fry-rearing rituals they happily display in an artificial world. The armored catfish are very like them: beautiful, most of them suitable for aquaria, and full of surprises in behavior and adaptation.

Turns out they’re even more surprising then we ever suspected and their adaptations can reach to the extreme. A new species was recently described that actually eats wood. Wood! Its spoon-shaped dentition probably allows for this rather amazing capability. You can read a great interview-styled writeup on the newcomer with the Nature Conservancy’s Dr Paulo Petry here.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you want to have animals named after you and discover a new species.. abandon the mammals! Go fish!


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