Most catfish have whisker-like feelers on their snouts, but not six newly discovered species. Instead, they have faces full of wriggly tentacles! The recently discovered species from the genus Ancistrus, commonly known as bristlenose or bushynose catfish, live in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America.
Why the fish have squiggly tentacles on their faces is a mystery. But the structures appear only on males, so they may serve to help them attract mates, says Lesley de Souza. She’s an ichthyologist, or fish scientist, at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. The tips of males’ tentacles look a lot like the catfish’s eggs, she explains. That similarity might signal to females that a male would be a good father that would protect the nest. Along with tentacles, males also have spines on their heads and bony plates on their bodies to protect against predators.
Since de Souza led the team that identified the new catfish, she got the honor of naming them. She dubbed the species pictured A. saudades, after a Portuguese word meaning “homesick.” That’s because the area where she found the fish reminded de Souza of her home country of Brazil.
“Naming a species is the first step toward conserving them,” says de Souza. Even though the unusual catfish were only just discovered, they face a number of threats. Mining and other human activities have polluted the streams where they live. “By naming them, we can begin to educate people about the species and push for their protection,” says de Souza.