Blind cave catfish discovered in Brazil

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A new species of subterranean catfish has been described from the Amazon River drainage by Brazilian scientists.

The description of the new species, which belongs to the enigmatic catfish genus Phreatobius, is published in a paper by Oscar Shibatta, Janice Muriel-Cunha and Mrio de Pinna in the most recent issue of the journal Papis Avulsos de Zoologia.

The new species, named Phreatobius dracunculus, can be distinguished from P. cisternarum (the only other member of the genus) in lacking eyes, having 11"13 ventral procurrent caudal-fin rays, 52"53 vertebrae, 5 pectoral-fin rays, long pectoral fin, posterior insertion of dorsal fin located more posteriorly with respect to anal fin, first dorsal-fin and first anal-fin pterygiophores more anteriorly place with respect to vertebral column, lack of dark pigmentation, large pseudotympnus, and a different pattern of sensory canal pores on the head. Phreatobius dracunculus is known only from the type locality, a hand-dug well intended for dosmetic use located in the Rio Branco drainage.

This locality is about 1900 km away from the known distribution of P. cisternarum, on nearly the opposite side of the Amazon River drainage.

The specific name is the diminutive form of the Latin word draco, meaning dragon, and alludes to the general appearance and colour of the fish.

Two of the speciemsn collected were kept alive for some time in aquaria furnished with rocks from the well and without aeration.

According to the authors, the fish ...stayed in apparent good health the entire period in captivity and showed a general behavior similar to that of P. cisternarum...

Compared to its sister species, however, P. dracunculus specimens seemed more active overall, and spent more time exploring the bottom and middle portions of the water column.

The food items in captivity were live earthworms...dried blood-worms and fresh dead adult Artemia...

For more information, see the paper: Shibatta, OA, J Muriel-Cunha and MCC de Pinna (2007) A new subterranean species of Phreatobius Goeldi, 1905 (Siluriformes, Incertae sedis) from the Southwestern Amazon basin. Papis Avulsos de Zoologia 47, pp. 191"201.