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It is October, the scary season of the year, and Ferrebeekeeper is working towards our annual Halloween special feature at the end of the month. Before we get there however, let’s pause to appreciate an exceedingly beautiful snake, Drepanoides anomalus, the black-collared snake of South America. The tiny but handsome snake can be found in the neotropical forests of the great Southern continent in a range stretching from French Guyana across Brazil, and from Colombia down through Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. For those of you following along on a globe, that is an epic range…and yet, so little is known about this tiny snake here in the north (or anywhere online, for that matter) that it is hard to speak sensibly about its habits and proclivities. It is a rear-fanged snake notable for a nocturnal lifestyle and for its propensity for eating eggs of he many many sorts found in its region. This genus contains only the single living species. What we can say for certain is that this is an endearingly winsome little snake with appealing eyes and a gorgeous red body. I can’t decide whether its tiny white headband looks like a clergyman’s collar or like a cartoon bandage, but it does make me think we could do better in English than “black collared snake.” If anyone out there knows anything about this mysterious creature, please let us know!

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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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