Newly Discovered Wood-Eating Catfish Has Spoon-Shaped Teeth

wood-eating catfish photo

Photos via The Nature Conservancy, credit: Paulo Petry

Turns out deep sea crabs aren't the only underwater wildlife to eat wood. An Amazonian armored catfish does too. A new species with teeth shaped like spoons for scooping up wood from fallen logs has been discovered by freshwater scientist Paulo Petry in the Fitzgarald arch, a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon. And, in what seems to be the daily narrative of newly discovered species, it is already under threat from development.

wood-eating catfish photo

The Nature Conservancy reports that the new species was caught at the confluence of the Purus and Curanja rivers. The armored catfish, unique to South America, are relatively specialized. But only a small group of catfish species -- around 10 of them -- will eat wood.

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According to Petry, "There are 4,700 freshwater fish species in South America right now. On average, over 100 species per year have been discovered. This year alone, 69 new species have been described thus far. These numbers show very clearly that we are far from knowing the number of freshwater species in South America."

And yet, development in the Amazon could threaten the existence of many of the species. There are several proposed infrastructure development projects, including roads which will also bring lumber extraction, cattle ranching and slash-and-burn agriculture. While the indigenous communities object to the roads, the government seems set on moving forward with them. It's especially unnerving because, as Petry states, this is still one of the most pristine areas of rainforest left on earth. And it has wood-eating catfish! Who could destroy that?

The Nature Conservancy has an interesting interview with the scientists who made the discovery.

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