Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005
* Japanese name: Nekogigi
* Scientific name: Pseudobagrus ichikawai
* Description: Catfish have whiskers, making them easily recognizable. Of course, the whiskers are not made of hair, but they have the same function as a cat's whiskers: They are sensory organs, more correctly called barbels. The bagrid catfish is about 11 cm long, with three pairs of ventral fins, two dorsal fins and a deeply forked tail. They live for about four years. The body is a delicately colored peach-plum and gold, and another feature that distinguishes catfish from most other types of fish is that they don't have scales.
* Where to find them: Bagrid catfish are threatened with extinction and now can only be found in the rivers flowing into Ise and Mikawa bays. They live among rocks at the bottom of those rivers, making it difficult to spot them, and, to make things worse, the fish is most active at night. The bagrid is designated in Japan as a national treasure. Let's hope that status -- acquired in 1977 -- will help prevent its extinction. However, river "improvement" works, such as concrete banks and dams, don't help matters.
* Food: Larger plankton and insect larvae, small fish and tadpoles, and crustaceans are the bagrid's main meal, but in a pinch they will eat detritus from the bottom of the river. The fish uses its sensitive barbels to detect food and the movement of animal prey in the dark.
* Special features: The dorsal fin has a hollow spine through which a toxic protein can be delivered. If anything attacks this catfish -- if the predator can see in the dark -- it will soon be repelled by the sting. So it's not predation that threatens the bagrid, it's environmental degradation. Courtship and mating takes place in late spring. The males find a suitable nest site, protected by stones, and patrol it. Females lay eggs, and for a week or so, males guard the nest containing the fry. Catfish have attracted a couple of unlikely legends: They are supposed to behave erratically in the hours before an earthquake, and earthquakes have been themselves blamed on a giant catfish said to live inside the Earth.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET