Phreatobius described from Bolivia

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Hot on the heels of the discovery of a second species of the enigmatic South American subterranean catfish Phreatobius, a third species from Bolivia has been recently described by American and Bolivian scientists.

Publishing the description in a recent issue of the journal Zootaxa, Luis Fernandez, Leandro Saucedo, Fernando Carvajal-Vallejo and Scott Schaefer name the new species Phreatobius sanguijuela.

The new species can be distinguished from the other two species of Phreatobius (P. cisternarum and P. dracunculus) in having a combination of: absence of eyes, 45"46 vertebrae, 25"34 dorsal procurrent caudal-fin rays, 14"16 ventral procurrent caudal-fin rays, 4 pectoral-fin rays, and first anal-fin pterygiophore on vertebra 18.

The new species represents the first record of Phreatobius outside of Brazil, and is known only from artificial wells in the headwaters of the Itenz River in Bolivia.

According to the authors, the wells ...range in depth from 6 to 12 m with a diameter of approximately one meter, with surface openings covered and sidewalls unfinished.

The bottom consists of unconsolidated sand and reddish lime. The water is transparent and water depth is about 1 m. The specimens were captured using a bucket during the dry season (June) and they become much less frequent during the rainy season...

The new species is named after the local name for the fish (sanguijuela is the Spanish word for leech), as these catfishes are mistakenly thought to be ...a parasitic threat to human health, due to its blood-red color and vermiform shape.

For these reasons, and perhaps because the fishes are mistaken for leeches, the fishes are killed upon incidental capture when extracting drinking water.

For more information, see the paper: Fernandez, L, LJ Saucedo, FM Carvajal-Vallejos and SA Schaefer (2007) A new phreatic catfish of the genus Phreatobius Goeldi 1905 from groundwaters of the Itenez River, Bolivia (Siluriformes: Heptapteridae). Zootaxa 1626, pp. 51"58.