Shovelnose Catfish (Sorubium lima)
Like all catfish the shovelnose variety has three pairs of long feelers, or barbels, which look like the whiskers of a cat. But perhaps more remarkable is the creature’s broad, duckbill-like snout, a feature from which the shovelnose gained its name. On the underside of the snout is the shovelnose’s mouth. The mouth’s location serves the creature well at feeding time. Like a vacuum cleaner, the shovelnose uses its mouth to suck up crustaceans and other goodies as it moves along the river bottom.
Catfishes are a diverse group of ray-finned fish. Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat’s whiskers, catfish range in size and behavior from the heaviest and longest, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia and the second longest, the wels catfish of Eurasia, to detritivores (species that eat dead material on the bottom), and even to a tiny parasitic species commonly called the candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa. There are armour-plated types and also naked types, neither having scales. Despite their name, not all catfish have prominent barbels; members of the Siluriformes order are defined by features of the skull and swimbladder. Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food. Many of the smaller species, particularly the genus Corydoras, are important in the aquarium hobby. Catfish are nocturnal.
During the day the shovelnose catfish lies hidden among leaves and other debris on the river bottom. But as evening falls, it begins its hunt for food, an activity that continues throughout the night. This creature depends on its sense of touch and on its taste buds to find food. In fact the barbels are covered with taste buds—just like a human tongue! As the catfish moves along the river bottom, its barbels constantly move back and forth, picking up information about the environment.
The shovelnose catfish is silver-gray, with a white belly. Unlike most fish the shovelnose’s skin is bare, completely lacking scales. Its dorsal fins (on the top of the body) and pectoral fins (on the sides behind the gills) have no color and are covered with strong spines. The sharp spines are weapons of defense, providing protection against other fish that might find the shovelnose catfish a tasty dinner.
class: Bony fishes
family South American pimelodid catfishes
length: 2 feet
diet: small fish and crustaceans
method of reproduction: egg layer
home: streams in eastern South America
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