ne of my favourite ways of passing
a few hours used to be searching through a friendly dealer’s
tanks of catfish, looking for any odd ones that might
be different to the majority of the shipment.
On one of these forays I was confronted
by a tank of juvenile Calophysus macropterus,
a greyish, predatory Pimelodid with dark spots along its
flanks. Closer inspection showed one specimen in there
that didn’t have any spots. It was green/bronze
metallic with a very long adipose fin and, most significantly,
long and extremely flattened barbels. It was a Pinirampus
pirinampu, a large Amazonian Pimelodid which was
hardly ever imported for the aquatic trade.
It was as though all
my birthdays had come at once and I couldn’t believe
my luck as I took it home and installed it in a quarantine
tank. It survived the mandatory three weeks, which I impose
on all new purchases, and proved to have a healthy appetite
for all the usual food-stuffs, worms, prawn, coleyfish
etc. It grew rapidly lengthwise, from about 75 to 150mm.
However, I always noticed that, although immediately after
a meal it looked as though it had swallowed a plum, a
few hours later its stomach was quite flat again. It didn’t
seem to put on any actual body weight, only length, and
I began to suspect something seriously amiss.
In desperation one day I decided
to try soaking some food in Sterazin or a similar product,
but the next morning, before I could put my plan into
action, the fish looked rather poorly and was resting,
quite uncharacteristically, up against the front glass
in a head-up position, which meant that it’s undersides
and belly where in full view. I could see something dark
wiggling around inside and this ‘thing’ seemed
to fill the whole body cavity,. An hour later the fish
Never having been one of these
squeamish females, I cut my fish open and the worm that
came out measured 125mm in length. It was about 0.5mm
in width and reddish-brown in colour.
The worm died very quickly - obviously,
its life-support system was no longer functioning.
Nobody would have guessed, after
looking at my fish when I first got it, or even after
several weeks, that it was playing host to an alien, and
this causes me to wonder how often this happens with wild-caught
fish and we don’t realise it at the time of purchase.
What I do know is that if I ever
win the lottery and fulfil my life’s ambition, (which
is to go on an expedition and see the Amazon and some
of these catfish in their natural habitat), when the chef
of the day offers me a catfish steak, I just might say
thanks but no thanks.....
Daphne Layley, 2009
This article is an up-dated version of the original, first
published in Magazine No. 69 of the Catfish Association
of Great Britain, 1991.