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Cnidoglanis macrocephalus via thefeaturedcreature.com

It has been far too long since we dropped in on our friends the Siluriformes–the order of catfish (this makes them sound like a powerful secret society…but the catfish kind of are a powerful secret society). Today Ferrebeekeeper features an especially magnificent and crazy-looking catfish, Cnidoglanis macrocephalus, AKA “the Cobbler.” Cnidoglanis macrocephalus is the only species within its genus.  It belongs to the Plotosidae family of catfish which includes ocean-going and saltwater catfish like the adorable coral reef catfish (these stripy little guys live like clownfishes, surgeonfish, and triggerfish within the tumultuous and colorful ecosystems of coral reefs).  The Cobbler does live in salt water, but they do not venture out to the coral reef.  Instead they live in brackish areas at the mouths of rivers and streams.  The flamboyant fish—which have whiskery catfish heads annealed to eel-like tails can grow up to 90 centimetres (36 in) in length and weigh 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lbs).

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Cnidoglanis macrocephalus tends to spend the day hiding in holes.  Then at night the catfish comes out along the coastlines to feed on mollusks, worms, crustaceans, algae, and organic debris (the darkness helps them hide from predators and poses little challenge to the superb catfish senses).  The fish can live up to 13 years, although they are preyed on by cormorants and pelicans. To protect themselves cobbler catfish have razor-sharp venomous spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins.

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Source: Klaus Stiefel

 

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It’s a bit past the holidays, but I wanted to share the Christmas present I received.  A plush catfish!  Look at how endearing it is.  There are too few catfish toys. This is a blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), the largest species of north American catfish, which reached sizes of up to 165 cm (65 in) can weigh more than 68 kg (150 lb).  The blue catfish does not just make a captivating plush toy, its success in the competitive real world also illustrates why the siluriformes are such formidable lifeforms.

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Although blue catfish can eat almost anything, they are highly competent and aggressive predators (look at its predatory lines). They are capable of living in fresh fast water or in torpid brackish water and they possess all the myriad astonishing senses of the catfish in order to master their river home.    This is a problem in the real world.  The fish was originally native to the Mississippi river and most of its tributaries, but, aided by the fell hand of man, the blue catfish was introduced into the rivers and estuaries of Virginia where it has swiftly displaced native life.  Because of its ability to survive brackish water, the mighty catfish of the Mississippi has been taking over parts of the Chesapeake Bay.  Hopefully it wasn’t a mistake to bring one into the house.

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Here is a stamp which combines two of my fascinations—catfish and Namibia.  Of course Namibia is a vast and profoundly arid desert—literally a sea of sand—so perhaps you are wondering how a catfish made it onto their postage.  Well the African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) has a habit of getting everywhere.  It lives throughout most of Africa and the Middle East and (though ill-conceived aquaculture) has established colonies in Vietnam, India, Brazil, and Indonesia.  The catfish is an air breather.  It can sip pure air without the use of its gills, so it can survive in puddles, mud wallows, and even in filthy anaerobic water.  Some of them have moved into the sewers of big cities.  Speaking of big it is arguably Africa’s largest catfish with an average adult length of 1–1.5 m (3 ft 3 inches –4 ft 11 inches).  Even in a dry land like Namibia this tough persistent catfish manages to find watercourses of one sort or another.  Like its close cousin, the walking catfish of Asia, the African sharptooth catfish is a remarkable creature.

African sharptooth catfish (C. gariepinus)

African sharptooth catfish (C. gariepinus)

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The Amazon River is renowned for having the greatest diversity of catfish of any river—oh, and it is also the largest river in the world too, I guess.  The river drains half of South America and its branches flows through many many different sorts of regions.  Near Tena in Ecuador, the river’s tributaries flow through a karst landscape of sunken limestone caves, streams and springs.  There, deep beneath the rainforest, scientists have discovered a catfish with a remarkable ability to climb walls—or perhaps I should say they have rediscovered a previously known fish and found out it has unexpected talents.

The cave-climbing catfish (photograph by Geoff Hoese)

The cave-climbing catfish (photograph by Geoff Hoese)

A team of naturalists led by Geoff Hoese found the catfish in a subterranean waterway jauntily climbing up a sheer 3 meter (10 foot) stone wall with a thin rivulet running down it.  Here is a link to a National Geographic article about the catfish—you can go there and watch a video of the catfish shimmying up and down water-slicked rocks. The scientists believe the fish is Chaetostoma microps, a member of the suckermouth armored catfish family (Loricariidae), a group of animals which Ferrebeekeeper has enthused about in past posts (although the fish’s identity remains unclear—since the team had no permit for taking specimens and left the creature unmolested still climbing its underground walls).

An illustration of Chaetostoma microps

An illustration of Chaetostoma microps

Chaetostoma microps is not notably specialized for cave life—it still has pigment and eyes, and lacks the marked asceticism of other true underdwellers like the pink catfish Phreatobius cisternarum (which lives beneath the water table!)  Chaetostoma microps feeds on algae—which is notably lacking from underground caves.  So what exactly is the fish doing down there? And how/why did it evolve its remarkable ability to climb rocks without much water?  The answers are unclear, but it seems reasonable to assume that a fish from the vertiginous yet cave-studded foothills of the Andes would need the ability to climb in order to maximize its habitat (and to prevent being sucked into an inescapable underground grotto).  Maybe Chaetostoma microps is really a mountaineer catfish.  Instead of leaping like salmon, it deals with its rocky treacherous home by suction, barbels, and indomitable spirit!

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I had lots of favorite toys as a child—the toy I loved most changed as I changed ages (a truth which continues to be valid).  However, like most boys of my demographic, one of my all-time favorite toy properties was the Star Wars action figure line by Kenner.  This was a line of licensed toys based on the blockbuster space opera films. The Kenner action figures changed all the parameters of toy manufacturing & sales and made a bajillion dollars…but I don’t have to tell you about Star Wars action figures; unless you are some bizarre eremite or a post-human reading this in the distant future, you already know all about them.  Anyway I uncritically loved all the figures I had–except for three problem figures:  R2D2 had a white marble stuck up inside of him which made it impossible to deploy his third leg (I had the droid shop—and the third leg! but to no avail). Han Solo’s head broke off and was lost: he was in the Hoth Anorak, so afterwards he just looked like a mountaineer who had slipped, but I still knew it was Han, so it was pretty devastating. And, perhaps worst of all, somebody chewed up Greedo’s head.

The internet, however, has no lack of unblemished Greedos.

The internet, however, has no lack of unblemished Greedos.

Now R2D2 was not a problem—you could still play with him.  Han Solo’s terminal accident came as I was outgrowing the figures.  But, throughout my childhood, Greedo’s disfigurement always bothered me.  Plus who chewed up his head?  Was it the dog?  Was it my little sister?  Was it me?  He had come into my hands when I was at such a tender age, that the secret of his scars was lost.  I could make it work—Greedo’s fate in the movies was pretty inglorious.  When you were playing, it was easy to make believe he had been savaged by some horrible space monster.  Yet he was one of the most alien of the alien characters and that was diminished.  Plus his big soulful empty eyes—his best feature!–were ruined.

Peckoltia greedoi (Armbruster/Auburn University)

Peckoltia greedoi (Armbruster/Auburn University)

That is a pretty long introduction to today’s post which–as you no doubt anticipated—is about catfish! Johnathan Armbruster is an ichthyologist who curates the fish collection for Auburn University Museum of Natural History.  Recently, as he was going through old specimens, he found an unknown catfish collected from the Amazon in 1998.  Using his special ichthyology powers, Armbruster determined this was an entirely new species of armored suckermouth catfish. Destiny was in his hands.  He had to name the new catfish.  I should mention that the defining features of this new armored catfish were its big soulful empty eyes (as well as some head appendages and a ribbed body).

Greedo really was named first

Greedo really was named first

Armbruster reached back to his own childhood memories and named the fish Peckoltia greedoi, in honor of the incompetent Rodian bounty hunter (well also in honor of Gustavo Peckolt, a member of the Natural History Commission—but Armbruster didn’t get to choose the genus name).   Looking at the fish, the movie character, and the action figure, I become ever more convinced the little catfish is actually named after the toy. I wonder if Armbruster’s Greedo action figure was chewed up too.

From Charmworks.com

From Charmworks.com

Last week’s crazy catfish car was a big hit. Therefore I embarked on a search for an even crazier item…a catfish crown! Alas, I foolishly wasted my blog researching time seeking a mad object which does not seem to exist (or at least remains unknown to the internet). Although I never discovered a jeweled catfish headdress, I did succeed in finding a surprising number of endearing catfish pendants, charms, and medallions. Thus, here is the resultant small gallery of catfish jewelry.

An elegant catfish charm from JC Hunter

An elegant catfish charm from JC Hunter

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I think this is a catfish...

I think this is a catfish…

Wels Catfish charms from England

Wels Catfish charms from England

Handcrafted Corydoras earrings available on ETSY from omostudios

Amazing Handcrafted Corydoras earrings available on ETSY from omostudios

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Sterling Silver Catfish Charm

Sterling Silver Catfish Charm

African cat fish, "lost wax" brass pendant (Ghanatreasures)

African cat fish, “lost wax” brass pendant (Ghanatreasures)

Hmmm....

Hmmm…

I wish I had more to say about these lovely little objects. It seems like the catfish was sometimes a good luck symbol in ancient cultures (representing fertility, mutability,& plenty), and these little amulets and earrings make me think that the same continues to hold true even in our digital world. But, without knowing the jewelers’ intent, I can only present an interesting image gallery. It’s still pretty exciting though!

Alva Museum Replica Funky Cat Fish

Alva Museum Replica Funky Cat Fish

The Bauer Catfish

The Bauer Catfish

What is the most beautiful shape? Obviously a catfish shape, right? Unfortunately, designers have been slow to realize this and they have so far failed to incorporate the beauty of catfish into home, work, and public contexts. Fortunately, however, this is all beginning to change. Bauer Ltd., a firm which specializes in customizing automobiles has finally realized that most Americans would prefer to drive around in a sleek and fancy catfish. They offer a service through which the discerning motorist can transform his boring Mazda Miata into a thrilling siluriform shape.

A Lime Green Customized Racing Catfish

A Lime Green Customized Racing Catfish

According to auto-industry blogs, the designer of the Bauer Catfish actually looked at a catfish to craft the design. It is certainly a sleek and magnificent-looking vehicle! I particularly like how the eyes/headlights look, and I love the diagonal stripes on the sides. I looked at the Bauer website to try to find out some details to share with you about the custom cars, but sadly the technical details of the conversion quickly baffled me (it doesn’t help that I have been a pedestrian for so many years). It seems you can customize the cars with all sorts of souped-up racing engines, but unfortunately I could not find any way to install sensitive whiskers or tastebuds on the vehicle.

Just imagine if it had long barbels!

Just imagine if it had long barbels!

 

11949868721596191242creation_day_5_number_ge_01.svg.hiOf the top ten posts of all time, number five is my personal favorite. As you might imagine, it deals with catfish—those bewhiskered masters of freshwater survival. Catfish live on all continents (other than Antarctica—where they once lived) and they thrive in virtually every freshwater habitat worldwide. The siluriformes have even left freshwater and begun to reconquer the ancient oceans from whence all chordates originally sprang. They are a phenomenally successful family—one of life’s greatest success stories. When Earth life finally leaves home and blasts off into the greater firmament, I am sure catfish will find a way to tag along in our fresh water supply (assuming we can ever look up from our stupid I-phones and celebrity folderol for ten minutes to make such a thing happen).

 

A school of Striped Eel Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)

A school of Striped Eel Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)

Ferrebeekeeper has featured all sorts of catfish posts: catfish in art, the politics of farm-raised catfish, colorful catfish, venomous coral reef catfish, even terrifying underworld gods that are catfish! There are upside-down catfish, and catfish which care, and even wild catfish living in Brooklyn (both at the beach and at the reservoir). Tune in later this autumn when we will go all celebrity chef and cook a delicious catfish! I guess what I am saying is that I really like catfish! I admire their astonishing versatility. The secret to their success is straightforward but hardly simple—they have a vast array of astonishing sense organs which allow them to thrive in environments where other fish are lost. Even if their habitat is dark, turbid, or chaotic—the numerous senses of the catfish (some of which are not possessed by humans) allow it to evade predators, find food, and carry on a social life which is often surprisingly elaborate. You can read all about these astonishing senses in Ferrebeekeeper’s fifth top post of all time “Sensitive Siluriformes: How Catfish Perceive the World.”

 

M. Tigrinus

Merodontotus Tigrinus (The Zebra Shovelnose Catfish)

After you are done reading (or re-reading) the original post, I hope you will pause to reflect on how astonishingly beautiful and sophisticated life is. Most people I talk to initially dismiss catfish as lowly bottom-feeders (or possibly talk about them as delicious sandwiches), but they are magnificent organisms which live everywhere based on senses we are just beginning to understand. They are also related to us: distant cousins who stayed closer to the traditional ways of our great, great, ever-so-great grandparents the ancient lobe-finned fishes of the Silurian. But despite their adherence to a traditional aquatic lifestyle the catfish are hardly unsophisticated cousins!

Grandpa?

Grandpa?

An Illustrated Haiku from the strange depths of the Internet

An Illustrated Haiku from the strange depths of the Internet

Today (August 8) is International Cat Day, a holiday which honors our beloved feline friends. The domestic cat descended from the African Wild Desert Cat in the depths of prehistory and has been revered (though not universally) ever since. Cats have been portrayed both as gods and as monsters by artists. They represent beauty, grace, friendship, happiness, and love. They represent bad luck, witchcraft, endless hunger, and cruelty. Humans cannot get enough of our bewhiskered predatory friends and their odd dual natures. Additionally, cats dominate the worldwide web–the hive mind conglomerate which has become so central to human activity (and upon which you are presumably reading this post).

Old Fashioned Catfish Charm from eBay

Old Fashioned Catfish Charm from eBay

I am personally celebrating International Cat Day with a rabbit fur mouse for Sepia Cat–my beloved middle aged tabby who sleeps purring on my legs (when she is not committing war crimes against mice). To celebrate on this blog, however, I am giving you a whimsical gallery of cat/fish hybrids which artists draw as puns to represent the siluridae. When I was a child I loved these kinds of endearing mixed animal cartoons (and they deeply influenced the Zoomorphs—a line of mix-and-match animal toys I designed). I hope you enjoy the chimerical fun—but more than that, I hope you are especially nice to your catfriends on this, their special day!

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Cartoon Catfish by Steven Wallet

Cartoon Catfish by Steven Wallet

Stock Illustration by RobinOlimb

Stock Illustration by RobinOlimb

 

Tabby Sabertooth Catfish by Kennon9 (Deviantart)

Tabby Sabertooth Catfish by Kennon9 (Deviantart)

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Felix the Catfish

Felix the Catfish

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A Catfish Aisha from Neopets

A Catfish Aisha from Neopets

Catfish Envy (Masami Teraoka, 1993, woodblock & etching with hand-tint)

Catfish Envy (Masami Teraoka, 1993, woodblock & etching with hand-tint)

Masami Teraoka is a Japanese-born artist who addresses contemporary issues and mores with ancient Ukiyo-e artistic style. The results of this fusion are not only visually stunning but frequently droll & ridiculous as well. Here is a mixed woodcut/etching print titled “Catfish Envy” which has been hand-tinted by the artist. A risible middle aged samurai is trying to snorkel his way up to a contemporary international femme fatale who, in turn, is embracing a wily catfish. The young woman seems contemptuous of the old fashioned warrior–who looks quite out of breath and rattled. The catfish is an enigma, but he seems to have shades of the mythical Namazu–the earthquake-causing catfish god who lives beneath Japan (and who sometimes represents wealth caused by corruption). There is something distinctly nouveau riche and jaded about that catfish. The beautiful lady snorkeler has a disdainful and mercenary light in her eyes. Even the tradition-bound samurai seems like he might be a bit lecherous and silly (although we sense that the lecherous, silly, tradition-bound printmaker sympathizes with him). The juxtaposition of the centuries-old technique, the old-school sexual/class moralizing, and the modern sporting equipment earns this print a place of high distinction in the annals of catfish-themed art (even if it might be somewhat lacking in egalitarian humanist values).

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