Sunday, 19 April 2009

GUEST BLOGGER DAVID MARSHALL: L Numbered catfish

Since my yesterday's posting about the new catfish species, I have had a number of emails asking what I mean by "L Numbered" catfish. To explain, here is an article by David Marshall, reprinted from the 2007 CFZ Yearbook:

In the late 1980's a small variety of loricarins new to the U.K. aquarium hobby began appearing in aquatic retail outlets. All of these fish were given exotic-sounding common names so a small white fish with black stripes was sold as the emperor or zebra peckoltia, a fish with wavy black and yellow markings the scribbled plec, and one with a dark black body and white spots was sold as the vampire plec.

From the scant information that could be obtained, mainly through friendly retailers, U.K. aquarists were led to believe that all of these fish had originated from the Rio Xingu area of Brazil and were vegetarian by nature. It would take sometime for this information to be corrected, and make aquarists realise that these particular loricarins’ natural range extended beyond the Xingu area and that their dietary requirements were actually very varied.

As more of these loricarins began to appear, the sales tickets on their aquaria (first seen in Yorkshire through L 018 - Baryancistrus niveatus 'golden nugget') began to show a sequence that began with the letter L followed by a series of numbers. Shortly afterwards the letters LDA began the sequence with some of these fish. The shape and character of the sequenced species was also starting to change as no longer did they all have the look of a miniature plecostomus, but some resembled whiptail catfish, others large otocinclus, and then came the truly bizarre sight of little loricarins with grey and black marbled patterns - best described as elongated wine gums with fins. What on earth was going on?


Confusion in Germany

When all was revealed, it became clear that these loricarins had been available on the European mainland for some time before we had seen them in the U.K. They were appearing not only from the Rio Xingu, but from many other areas of South America. As each new fish had been discovered, the well known German magazine DATZ had featured their portrait.

Worried about varying common names that had been given to these fish in the trade, the DATZ Editorial staff had come up with a system in which each new fish would be given an L-Sequenced number that would allow it to be universally recognised, until the scientific community could get through the tortuous procedure of giving them a proper scientific name. Going back in their records revealed that the fish U.K. hobbyists would come to know as the `white spot pleco` had been the first to be pictured, so this fish began the L Sequence as L 001 (L1). With some of the new species, it was clear to see that these were only colour, or regional, variants of loricarins already sequenced. So this was indicated, by adding a lower-case letter at the end of their number. Thus L O90d is the fourth known variant of ‘panaque species Peru'.

The Editorial staff of the rival German magazine Das Aquarium had also received photographs of other new loricarins coming out of South America, along with different-looking photographs of some of the L numbered fish, so not to be outdone they created the LDA numbering system for their photographs. Starting this sequence was the gold peckoltia which thus became LDA 01 (LDA1).

So from the start, we had confusion with different L and LDA numbers applying to the same fish. This became even more compounded when regional and colour variations of sequenced loricarins would slip through the system, thus giving them a totally different L number than that already assigned for their kind.

This would become partly to blame for further errors occurring, as other aquatic publications began captioning loricarin photographs with incorrect L and LDA numbers. These problems aside, the two sequencing systems remain the recognised - and best - way to keep a record of all the subject species, until the arduous task of scientifically naming them all is finally completed.


How many L and LDA numbered fish do we know about?

It is hard to keep track of LDA numbered fish through publications available in Britain, but by September 2003 a total of 76 loricarins had been sequenced. Thankfully, information on the L numbered loricarins is easier to come by, and of September 2004 the sequence had reached number 387. According to the Y.A.A.S. Fish Showing Size Guides, a total of 52 L numbered fish have now received valid scientific names, and these are split into a large number of genus classifications. With the LDA sequence, this process appears to be going much more slowly with fewer than 20 of these species having gone through - as yet - the scientific nomenclature process.

The well-known Canadian aquarist and fish collector Oliver Lucanus, while speaking to members of the Catfish Study Group UK, believes that there are many more such fish awaiting discovery, but that this task may become a race against time, as the increasing demands caused by intensive agriculture and search for mineral wealth, threaten the future of many habitats.

On the other side of the coin, a number of communities along the Rio Xingu now make a living collecting just one or two of the most popular L and LDA numbered fish, and such is the conservation concern over this practice, that we have already seen a collecting ban put upon the beautiful zebra peckoltia.

Golden rules

There are four golden rules which apply to keeping L and LDA sequenced fish:

1. Always find out as much information as you can about any of the loricarins that you wish to purchase. Not only do their feeding habits vary greatly, so too do their natural habitats, so we find fish originating from river rapids, lowland rivers, uncharted depths, brackish areas, sandbanks, areas rich in plant growth, and fast flowing rivers where fallen trees provide the cover, all lumped together under the sequencing systems.

2. Never purchase specimens with thin-looking bodies and sunken stomachs, as once many of these species have ceased eating, they may never have the will to do so again.

Although the majority of these fish will take standard catfish food tablets, sticks, and flakes, in aquaria, many are specialised feeders. The best guide we have to establishing the supplementary foods needed in order to maintain their health, is by looking at their teeth (which is not always easily achieved).

4. Basically, those with a single row of thin teeth on each side of their mouths, prefer a vegetarian diet. Those with two rows of impressive-looking teeth, bore into wood, so thus need to be provided with mopani or bogwood. Those which appear to have two sets of woodlice imprinted onto their mouthpad, are omnivorous by nature, whilst those with mouths that show a pattern resembling an Olympic Torch, need to be fed a carnivorous diet - including mussels and shrimps.

As we shall see, it is important to do daily checks, if possible, as to the health of all L and LDA sequenced fish.

A warning

We cannot leave the L and LDA numbers without warning of the main drawback in keeping these particular fish. A number of these loricarins are prone to dying very suddenly and without giving any indications of ill health. When we realise that this has happened, we should remove the body straight away, and make a water change to help clear any pollutant this death may have caused to the aquarium water. Unfortunately many die unnoticed, and this is when the real problem begins, as the flesh of a number of these species can begin to decay very quickly.

As this decay sets in, a 'bacterial soup' is soon formed. This 'soup' badly affects the breathing of fellow tank companions, and when this condition takes hold, it can have devastating effects upon the whole community. Over the years, I have heard a number of accounts of whole aquariums - be they stocked at low or high densities - wiped out through this condition, and - sadly - large water changes and commercial aquarium disease treatments proved no antidote.

Without a properly-conducted scientific investigation, we do not know if this bacteria, or whatever it actually may prove to be, is dormant in the body of a number of these species, or if some of the aquarium foods they are fed - such as mussels - actually cause its fermentation.

Just to reassure our readers, many L and LDA sequenced fish are long-lived, and I had the company of a coffee and cream Plec for close-on eleven years.

In Part Two of this article, we will take an in-depth look at a number of the most popular L and LDA numbered loricarins.

n Part One of this article we looked at how the L and LDA numbering system for loricarins came about. This time we will focus on the most popular L and LDA numbered fish, looking at their care and breeding.


Ancistrus

Picking out one bristlenose from the sequenced fish was difficult, so I opted for LDA 08 (gold marbled bristlenose or Ancistrus 'species Mato Grosso'), originating from Brazil, which has the scientific name of Ancistrus claro. Growing to 6cm, these fish have a beautiful orange-brown body colour. Males are told apart from females through larger - and thicker - head spines.

LDA 08 prefers a hard water environment with a temperature of 26C. I kept a trio - one male and two females - in the company of swordtails without any problems. Like all Ancistrus they are very quarrelsome, and stake-out territories which are held until feeding time, when the urge to devour flaked foods, algae wafers, catfish tablets, and any brineshrimp, missed by the swordtails brought about a truce in proceedings.

Although these fish are very hardy, and resistant to many aquatic diseases, they are prone to one particular malady - vibration syndrome. When a severe thunderstorm hit the Ryedale area, the thunder caused the shelf, on which the aquarium housing my trio was kept, to vibrate. This caused such panic that I had the heartache of seeing the fish roll over and die in front of my eyes.

To write fully about the breeding procedure and fry care of LDA 08 would need an article to itself: A compatible pair seeks out a cave-like structure. Once the female has spawned, she - rather sensibly - vacates the cave, leaving her mate to guard the orange coloured eggs. An overactive male can do great damage to a female spent of ova, so this is something we must taken account of. About a week after the eggs hatch, the fry will be seen scurrying over the substrate and glass etc. feeding upon algae.

We help their growth through feeding crushed algae tablets, boiled nettles, and by trying to get them to eat live brineshrimp. Unfortunately for those of us who prize the natural forms of fish, some of the sequenced Ancistrus are already showing the signs of commercial breeding programmes, and currently available are butterfly forms of the xanthic-looking L 144 (which is much easier to breed than LDA 08) with such large fins that they find manoeuvring around their aquaria very difficult.


Chaetostoma

This genus is home to the bulldog plecs. So many bulldogs, of various sizes and colour patterns, are arriving in the U.K. at the current time that they appear to have by-passed the L and LDA numbering sequences. Of those which are sequenced, L 188 (white spotted bulldog), and LDA 11 (marbled Mato Grosso bulldog), have lovely body patterns upon importation but, as with the majority of their genus, these patterns often fade to an overall muddy green colour as the fish begin to age.

There are two very important factors to be considered when keeping these fish. Firstly, always quarantine any potential new tankmates, as all bulldogs are prone to whitespot disease, and can become so badly infected that you cannot see the flesh for spots. Secondly, always keep bulldogs as single specimens, as members of a group will often, unseen; wear each other down to a situation where only one survives.
Much debate has ensued about how these fish - some of which are found in brackish waters - should be kept in aquaria. From my own experiences they prefer an aquarium no larger than 60x30x30cm, pH7, airflow just above normal, and plenty of regular water changes.

All standard aquarium foods are eaten with great gusto. I have found that small barbs and platies make good companions.

I have only come across one spawning report for these fish. The aquarist concerned kept two bulldogs in separate aquaria side by side. One day it was discovered that one of these fish had jumped into the others tank, and, when found, was seriously battered. Concerned about the health of the resident bulldog, a search ensued, with the aquarist having the surprise of finding the fish - assumed to be a male - guarding eggs in a crevice between two rocks.


Cochilodon

L 77 (coffee and cream plec.), L 137 (rusty plec.), L 138 (black-spotted 'Bruno' plec.) and an un-sequenced Cochilodon with blue eyes, are all recognised under the tag of Panaque species 'Bruno'. Of all the L numbers, L 77 is probably the one most prone to whitespot upon importation, but - thankfully - this is easily treated by using the old method of raising the water temperature, and scrupulously siphoning the gravel.

When a scientific classification comes along, it may well be that all the four 'Bruno' species are given the same scientific name, because they are so alike in features, that only slight differences in body and eye colour tell one from the other. These fish originate from Brazil, where they reproduce inside the trunks of decaying trees, and can reach a size of 30cm. Although their sucker-like mouths are adapted to chewing at wood, they take standard aquarium foods with great enthusiasm. Keep at a pH of 7 and a temperature of 26C. They will accept various tankmates from Corydoras through to large Synodontis.


Hypancistrus

This genus was erected in order to accommodate the beautiful ice-blue and white striped fish Hypancistrus zebra (emperor or zebra Peckoltia). Although there are several other similar shaped and coloured L numbers, the true zebra is L 046. Also worth looking out for is the queen arabesque, L 260, which is widely tipped to make an official appearance in the Hypancistrus genus in the near future.


Panaque

Of the several colour forms of Panaque nigrolineatus (royal or pin-striped Plec/Panaque) which carry an L number, and derive from Southern Columbia, my favourite is L 191 which, when young, has a brilliant black-coloured background to its body. Although capable of growing to 25cm, those seen in aquaria rarely reach this size.

An aquarium of at least 90x30x30cm is needed to house a nigrolineatus. They make good tank companions, but dislike the company of their own kind. Although soft, slightly acid to neutral water is recommended, they will tolerate some deviation from this. Keep at a temperature of 25C. Bogwood or mopani wood must always be included in the set-up, as they take various enzymes from this wood which aid digestion. These fish need much vegetable matter to be included in their diet, so we turn to algae wafers, and vegetable-based flake foods

Panaque have the strangest life expectancy of any loricarin that I know. As their teeth are worn down, through munching at wood, several new sets are regenerated. Once the last set is used the fish are no longer able to feed so - sadly - starve to death. Their end, therefore, comes not through age but through how much wood they have consumed.


Pseudancistrus

To show how both the L and LDA systems can have numbers relating to the same fish, we will talk about the beautiful Pseudancistrus leopardus (leopard Acanthicus) identified by the numbers LDA 07 and L 114. They come from fast running water courses, and are natives of Brazil. Depending upon their mood, the plec-like body shows either a yellow or orange background, with a beautiful foreground of black spotting and bars. The tail is a bright orange-red.

Although I have not tried this, I am reliably informed that it is possible to keep several of these fish in one aquarium. This aquarium would need to be of a fair size, as these fish can reach a total body length of 35cm. Filtration needs to be of a high quality, as the catfish will start to fade away if their aquarium is not in pristine condition. Keep at a temperature of 27C. Although these fish are primarily vegetarian, taking lettuce and pieces of raw potato. They will take commercial catfish pellets, and large-sized flake foods.

The sexes are distinguishable, as the edges of the pectoral fins are thicker in males, who also tend to be the more aggressive. We have few pointers as to how these fish actually reproduce, but it is believed that they may follow the Cochilodon way of making nesting sites in the wood of decaying trees.

Finally we must mention the loricarin species sold as L 128 (blue Pleco.) and L 200 (green Plec.). These fish, which originate from the Rio Orinoco, have become the basis of cottage industries for several villages, with young boys diving to great depths in order to catch the best specimens. There was a time when all of their catches were exported almost exclusively for the Japanese aquarium market, but now these beauties are appearing more often in the U.K. So close in characteristics are these two forms, that in the near future they may both carry the same scientific name.

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