200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 29: “From River Giants to the Toothpick Fish ”

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photo showing the diversity of catfish
A sampling of the thousands of catfishes included in the All Catfish Species Inventory

From River Giants to the Toothpick Fish

Did you know that catfishes are found all over the world? They range in size from the miniature candirú or toothpick fish of the Amazon to the Mekong River's giant catfish, the world's largest freshwater fish at 10.5 feet and 660 pounds. Catfishes are easily recognized by their tell-tale “whiskers,” also known as barbels, which ichthyologists use in part to group these creatures and distinguish them from all other fishes.

Academy Ichthyologists Drs. John Lundberg and Mark Sabaj Pérez were among the six principal investigators on an All Catfish Species Inventory (ACSI), an international effort aimed at identifying and classifying the world's catfishes. More than 450 ichthyologists and students from 53 countries discovered and described nearly 400 new species of catfishes, raising the total number of species to over 3,400. Many new species were based on specimens collected by John and Mark during fieldwork in North and South America, Africa, and Asia. John and collaborators also assembled a catfish tree of life that uses anatomical, DNA, and fossil evidence to trace the evolution of the major catfish lineages. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and was one of four flagship projects in the Foundation's Planetary Biological Inventories (PBI) program. The projects are intended to stimulate taxonomic research and to raise awareness of the diversity of life on Earth before much of it is lost.

Learn more about the All Catfish Species Inventory!

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