Catfish of the Month Right Arrow August 2011

Twosaddle Corydoras, Weitzmans Pansermalle (Denmark) - Corydoras(ln9) weitzmani   Nijssen, 1971

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded August 24, 2011.

This month I turn 40 years old and in writing this month's article I find myself thinking about two past points in time:August 1997 and August 1971. The former was around about the time that I seriously started work on what was to grow into, the latter was when I was born. Also around about that time in the early seventies, Hans Nijssen was naming a new species of Corydoras after the American ichthyologist Dr. Stanley Weitzman.

1971 was a good year for catfishes, with Poll publishing work on Synodontis which, to this day, is referred to regularly and is, in my opinion, one of the great modern works. 1971 also saw Corydoras panda appear. That single spotted species was to become a mainstay. But it is to a species with two spots on its flanks that provided more intrigue. Corydoras weitzmani was described in 1971 but it had been sitting in a jar on a shelf since first formally collected in 1949.

Any Corydoras fan subsequently reading Nijssen's description of this fish would not fail to put what the Germans refer to as a "phantom" species at the top of their wish-list. That said, the five specimens that Nijssen had, and the one he collected in 1969, were all that are mentioned in the description. It is odd to note the numbers available; even odder was the type locality given near Cusco in Southern Peru.

Cusco is well known to the world traveller, and several failed attempts to relocate the fish and introduce it into the aquarium hobby came and went. Additionally, what were we to make of the care requirements and breeding set-up for a Corydoras that lives at an inaccessible 11,000 feet above sea level? Some have suggested this information was deliberately given by the collectors as a false lead to throw any more collectors off the scent. I've already said that I wasn't born when this was all happening, but it shouldn't take a particularly developed mind to wonder exactly how much commercial intrigue existed at that time. Would they really do that then? Why Cusco?

However, the species was named to honour Dr. Weitzman, curator of fishes at the Smithsonian, but he also occupied a role as senior consulting editor at TFH magazine (how times change) and that would imply a link with the trade. But in the trade this ghost species remained a phantom, elusive and the stuff of legend. Dr David Sands documented a trip out to Cusco in PFK magazine and failed to find it.

That all changed in late 2004 when Japanese collector Shigezo Kamihata supplied fish to Japan. A good move, as the tropical fish market in there has a budget like no other. Corydoras were (and continue to be) very popular in this heightened live fish market; the going rate was around US$1000 a fish. It is against that level of demand that any other population of fishkeepers needs to compete, and rarely does. Staying in Japan, the fish was introduced in Aqualife magazine in February 2005 as the "fantasy cory".

Later that year, imports were forthcoming to the second tier of ornamental fish trading countries like Germany, the UK and USA. We learned then that the fishes were exported from the more southern Madre de Dios (Mother of God) river system also in Peru. Even then prices of around £50 per fish were the going rate. Soon, several spawnings were reported globally and between then and now, this has become a fish that you can buy for under £10. Furthermore, Peruvian exporters either discovered new collecting sites, transport routes opened up, or the locations became more well known, as the species become more available from the wild too.

After such an intrigue-laden introduction, we should perhaps expect some devastating spawning trigger or another mystical husbandry requirement for this species. But, as it turns out, they are easy to keep, they spawn easily and are relatively fecund. It would not surprise me if, in another 40 years' time, this species replaces the bronze cory as the fish we all see in all shops most of the time. Certainly it would well deserve it.

Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.

Back to Catfish of the Month index.