Paulo and catfish New Kind Of Armored Catfish Eats Wood?

Paulo & the new Catfish species. Picture by :Nature conservancy

An amazonian catfish, which also happens to be armored, has been discovered and it doesn’t eat the usual thing… Nope, this one eats wood. This interesting catfish will eat wood from logs floating around, or if it gets particularly hungry, even the excrement of its neighboring catfish.

This amazing new species of armored catfish was discovered by Paulo Petry, of Nature Conservancy. Paulo, along with some colleagues, reeled in these interesting catfish a few weeks back when on a scientific expedition to the Fitzgerald Arch. The Fitzgerald arch is one of the most out of the way places in the Peruvian Amazon, and is busting at the seams with different kinds of life, but it is also facing imminent dangers from development projects.

The catfish may not win any beauty pageants, however as Petry has commented “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have scientist friends who do work on the blobfish, and they think it’s beautiful!”

The largest of these unique creatures reeled in was roughly 65 centimeters, while the other two captured were only about half that size. They were reeled in at the confluence of the Purus and Curanja rivers.

An interesting question is just why this particular catfish is armored. Although, as Petry explains, finding armored catfish in South America isn’t so unusual. “There are 35 different families of catfish on Earth. Armored catfish are unique to South America. They’re the most diverse group of catfish in South America — probably close to 800 species. They’re a fairly evolved, and a very specialized group within catfish.”

However, what is even more astounding is that this particular catfish eats wood. While it is true that there are some variety of fish will dig their way into logs, however finding a fish which actually makes a meal of the substance is a rare find. There are a very small group of catfish which share this wood eating characteristic. Once this catfish mows down on some seemingly non-nutritious wood, it converts the wood cellulose into a different form of sugar, which it then uses.

Apparently, wood eating catfish wouldn’t be as surprising to us if the people who shipped them off to aquariums didn’t half starve them on the way there. “That’s one of the biggest issues when people bring these fish into the aquarium trade — they let them starve for very long times for shipping, the protozoan in their belly dies, and then they can’t digest wood. If you put another fish from the same group that is in good condition in the tank with them, the starving fish will eat the feces of the healthy fish to reinoculate itself with the protozoan, and then it will be able to eat wood and survive.” Petry went on to explain.

Well there you have it… Wood eating catfish are amongst us. Who knows what other unique and interesting creatures we will find?