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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.


Armoured Catfish (photo by Elaine Dockery)

There are about 40 known families of catfishes–give or take a few extinct families and a few mystery species (which will probably be classified as their own families in time).  The largest family of catfish in terms of diversity is the Loricariidae family—the exquisite armoured catfishes of Central and South America.  Nearly seven hundred species are known, and more are being added all of the time.  The extraordinarily successful family is characterized by suckermouths for closely grazing on vegetation and detritus.  They have long slender tapering forms with heavy bony plates around the head and body.  The Locariidae frequently have exquisite fanlike dorsal fins which they can open for display (the dorsal fin is the top fin, which you can see extended in some of the “out-of-the water pictures in the gallery below).  In Fishes of the World Joseph S. Nelson describes additional armament carried by this family, “When present, the adipose fin usually has a sharp spine at the forward edge.” Because of the vagaries of the Amazon and the other tropical rivers they inhabit, Locariidae are adept at breathing air and can survive for more than a day out of the water.

Adult Male Armoured Catfish of Baryancistrus genus (photo by Brian Glover) note the omega-shaped pupil

In addition to their maxillary barbells, which are loaded with sensory organs, the Locariddae are completely covered with taste buds.  The fish are therefore extraordinarily attuned to changes in their environment.  Even their fins and tails have tasting sensors.  Pretty much the only part of the fish’s external body not covered with taste buds are their eyes, which are remarkable in their own right.  Locariidae (save for one subfamily) have highly adjustable omega shaped pupils which give them excellent vision in night or day (additionally, to my way of thinking, they further enhance the creatures’ already endearing personality.)  The male catfish are loyal parents.  In most armoured catfish species, fathers will guard the eggs until they hatch–and they will frequently stick around to defend the larval hatchlings after that.

Hypostomus plecostomus

Aquarists will instantly recognize the family for a famous member, Hypostomus plecostomus, which find service as algae eaters in many tropical hobby tanks.  Most specimens of the Loricariidae for sale at aquarium shops are colloquially known as “Plecostomuses”, “plecos”, “suckermouths” or ”algae eaters”.  A glimpse at the list of Locariidae species from the “CATelog” of “Planet Catfish” will reveal why these catchall terms are used.   I have included a random sampling of these fish from images I found at “Planet Catfish” (I  tried hard to correctly cite the photographers and spell the fish names right).  You should visit that site and check out these amazing successful animals in their spell-binding diversity.

Loricaria similima (Johnny Jensen's Photographic Library)

Pseudancistrus barbatus (Photo by Rémy Ksas)

Pterygoplicthys gibbiceps (photo by Mark Sabaj Pérez)

Rhadinoloricaria macromystax (photo by Mark Sabaj Pérez)

Sturisomatichtys leightoni (photo by Paul E. Turley)

Peckoltia compta (photo by Jacob Lihn)

Leporacanthicus triactis (photo by Håvard Støre Andresen)

Lamontichtys stibaros (Johnny Jensen's Photographic Library)

Farlowella amazonum (Johnny Jensen's Photographic Library)

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

May 2023