Matt Clarke on the Blue phantom plec, a lovely L-number catfish from the Colombia-Venezuela border.
Common name: Blue phantom plec L128
Scientific name: This fish is undescribed and should be considered incertae sedis - taxonomic position uncertain.
Origin: These were imported from the Colombia-Venezuela border. The species is found in much of the Orinoco drainage. The frighteningly knowledgeable Julian Dignall of PlanetCatfish.com tells us that this greenish black form with blueish spots is apparently found around and upstream of San Fernando do Atabapo in Venezuela. The density of spots varies within populations, but the spots usually cover just the head, half of the body or the whole body. Further upstream of San Fernando do Atabapo this species is black with blue spots, he says.
Size: This undescribed plec is believed to grow to around 20cm/8".
Water: The water at the collection locality is soft and acidic. However, given that these had bred, they are clearly not bothered by the hard, alkaline water.
Breeding: There are no previous records of this species breeding in captivity. However, we we were lucky enough to witness the very similar (and possibly identical) L200 spawning in one of importer Tom Halvorsen's tanks. The parents measured around 8-10cm.
Says Tom: The female was easily identified, being ripe with eggs. The chosen site for laying the eggs seemed to be one of the caves available in the tank, as the male chased other fish away from it. Not having seen the spawning itself, this can't be said for sure though. They spawned several times, judging from the female becoming "slim" afterwards, before I sold them to a shop that had a customer that wanted to try breeding them."
Julian Dignall says that reproduction at small sizes does occur in other members of the Ancistrini: "Pseudcanthicus leopardus is a large 30cm/12"+ loricariid that has been photographed spawning at around 10-12cm/4-5". So I would be given to saying that such young reproduction is the norm in larger Ancistrini."
Notes: L128 is a member of the hypostomine tribe Ancistrini and is currently awaiting description. Julian tells us that this fish was previously considered to be a member of the now defunct genus Ancistrinae. He says it's interesting because it doesn't appear to fit into any existing genus, though it's close to Baryancistrus, Peckoltia and Spectracanthicus, and it's been wrongly labelled as a Chaetostoma in some books.
Similar species: Julian reckons L128 and L200 are the same species: "They are blacker the further upstream you go and yellower the further downstream you go, but morphologically they are identical. We're talking the whole Orinoco drainage here, so there is plenty of range for this to happen", he told me.
Availability: Imported by specialist fish wholesaler Tom Halvorsen Ltd (See www.tomhalvorsen.co.uk or call 07977 098127).
Price: Expect to pay about 40 each.