Shane's World Right Species Right Los Panaques, The Canoe-Eating Catfish of South America, Part 1 • How Many Panaque?

Article © Shane Linder, uploaded January 01, 2002.

"In the beginning of the world, the "demiurgo" (early gods) cut a tree and split away a piece of the bark and let it fall into the water. The piece transformed into a caribe (piranha). They cut off other pieces of bark that they also let fall into the water and from those pieces they named the fishes that were born: cachama (tambaqui), palometa (silver dollar), etc. With a long and wide piece of the tree, they created the panaque."
Venezuela people's creation myth

From the available information, it appears that the genus Panaque is one of the older genera of the family loricariidae. Panaque species are found in both the Rio Magdalena system and Maracaibo basin, two watersheds that have been cut off from the Amazon basin since the Andes were originally uplifted in the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. In the case of the Magdalena, it is estimated that it was cut off from the Amazon drainages some 10 million years ago. Missing from these watersheds are many catfish families and genera that either failed to adapt these systems once they were cut off from the Amazon or are too "new" to have existed when the Andes came into being. For example, the family Callichthyidae is divided into the subfamilies Callichthyinae (Hoplosternum, Callichthys, and kin) and Corydoradinae (Corydoras, Aspidoras, and kin). Members of the callichthyinae can be found in both the Magdalena and Maracaibo basins, but Corydoras are completely absent. Compare this to the Orinoco and Amazon basins where described Corydoras species outnumber members of the Callichthyinae by around 30 to one!

Among the loricariids of the Magdalena and Maracaibo systems are members of the subfamilies Ancistrinae, Hypostominae and Loricariinae. The subfamilies Hypoptopomatinae, Lithogeneinae, and Neoplecostominae are absent. Also of interest is that the small Panaque species, once placed in Panaqolus (Isbrücker et al 2001), are absent from the Magdalena and Maracaibo systems. This would appear to suggest that the smaller species derived from their larger congeners at some point after the rise of the Andes.

Taxonomic History
The genus Panaque was erected in by Eigenmann and Eigenmann in 1889 with P. nigrolineatus, until then known as Chaetostomus nigrolineatus, as the genus type species. In 2001 Isbrücker et al. published an article in an aquarium magazine that erected the genus Panaqolus for the smaller Panaque, known as the P. dentex group among taxonomists, species P. albomaculatus, P. dentex, P. gnomus, P. maccus, P. nocturnus and P. purusiensis. Chockley and Armbruster then published a paper in 2002 stating, "As Panaque, with the P. dentex species group included, is a small well-diagnosed, and easily identifiable genus, we feel that the recognition of a new genus for the P. dentex species group is unwarranted. Therefore, we treat Panaqolus as a junior synonym of Panaque." Aquarists will find that Panaqolus is still used in German aquarium literature.

Of further interest to aquarists is Armbruster's view that Scobinancistrus (Isbrücker and Nijssen, 1989) should be included within Panaque. The genus Panaque, from a taxonomist's point of view, is defined by its spoon-shaped teeth. Since Scobinancistrus also have spoon-shaped teeth, Armbruster states, "Scobinancistrus will likely be treated as a junior synonym of Panaque in the future. While Scobinancistrus do have spoon-shaped teeth, they are on long stalks and are not used to rasp wood. Scobinancistrus eat a fairly high protein diet and are not wood eaters.

How Many Panaque?
What follows is a listing of all known described Panaque and all known undescribed species that appear to belong to Panaque. It is not my intention to offer new descriptions or generic placements. This fish are listed by geographical region.

A note on the so-called "L Numbers" - L Numbers were originally established to provide hobbyists with a way to place a trade name with a loricariid that had either yet to be scientifically described or could not be matched with a any described species at the time of its appearance in the hobby. Unfortunately, several L Number books are now in print and one book's L Numbers do not always match with another book's L Numbers. I have tried to use the DATZ L Numbers below, but this system is not without serious problems as DATZ has issued L Numbers to certain fish and then pulled the L Number and issued it to another fish at a later date. For example, DATZ issued L190 to the form of P. nigrolineatus collected near Villavicencio, Colombia. However, before L190 was issued to this fish it was issued to a Squaliforma sp. in the 12/1994 issue. The Squaliforma species was later changed to L195, and also given the designations L093 and L154. In the case of L191, now issued to a P. nigrolineatus form from Caqueta, Colombia, the original L191 (DATZ 12/1994) was Sturisoma tenuirostre!

Maracaibo basin:
Panaque suttonorum (Schultz, 1944)

Described from Rio Negro below mouth of Rio Yasa, Venezuela

Magdalena system:
Panaque cochliodon(Steindachner, 1879)

Described from the Rio Cauca, Colombia

Orinoco system:
Panaque nigrolineatus(Peters, 1877)

Described from Calabozo, Venezuela. River not stated.

L 190 (DATZ 2/1995)

The vast majority of P. nigrolineatus collected for the hobby are collected near Villavicencio, Colombia and L190 was assigned to fish collected at this location. L190 are identical to P. nigrolineatus collected near the holotype location in Venezuela.

P. nigrolineatus "Orinoco form"

Some P. nigrolineatus are collected in the upper Orinoco near Puerto Carreño, Colombia and imported for the hobby. This form can be readily distinguished by the gold band that runs down the posterior edge of the caudal fin.

Panaque maccus (Stewart and Schaeffer, 1993)

aka: LDA22 (D.A. 9/1995), LDA67 (D.A. 6/2002), L162 (DATZ 5/1994)

Described from the Rio Las Marinas, tributary of the Rio Portuguesa, Venezuela

LDA 68 (D.A. 6/2002)

This fish is collected near Villavicencio, Colombia alongside P. maccus. It grows slightly larger than P. maccus and lacks the characteristic stripes that are present on the head of P. maccus.

L104/ L105 (DATZ 8/1992)

Supposedly collected near Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela. These fish may be identifiable with P. maccus.

L162 (DATZ 5/1994)

This fish is P. maccus. The original locality information published in DATZ (Rio Xingu, Brazil) was incorrect.

Amazon system:
Panaque albomaculatus (Kanazawa, 1958)

aka: LDA 31 (D.A. 7/1997)

Described from the Rio Pacuno, tributary of the Rio Suno, Ecuador

Specimens for the aquarium trade are collected from a number of river systems and differ slightly in the number, size, and color of their spots depending on where they originated from.

P. changae (Chockley and Armbruster, 2002)

aka: LDA 26 (D.A. 9/1996), L206 (DATZ 2/1996), L 226 (6/1996)

Described from the Rio Itaya, Peru

P. dentex (Gunther, 1868)

Described from Xeberos (Jeberos) upper Rio Aipena, tributary of Rio Huallaga, Peru

P. gnomus (Schaeffer and Stewart, 1993)

Described from Rio Cushuimi, tributary of the upper Rio Morona, Ecuador

P. nocturnus (Schaeffer and Stewart 1993)

Described from the Rio Santiago, Peru

P. purusiensis (La Monte, 1935)

Described from the Rio Macauhan, Brazil

L002 (DATZ 12/1988)

Collected in the Rio Tocantins, Brazil.


This L number is applied to P. nigrolineatus from the Rios Xingu, Tocantins, and Tapajos in Brazil. There are coloration variations between the three different populations. The form from the Rio Xingu was also given the designation LDA 63 (D.A. 10/2001).

L074 (DATZ 11/1990)

Collected in tributaries of the Rio do Para, Brazil (near Portel)

L090 (DATZ 1/1992)

Collected from the Rio Ucayali, Peru

L169 (DATZ 7/1994)

aka: LDA01 (D.A. 11/1992)

Collected from the middle Rio Negro, Brazil

L191 (DATZ 2/1995)

P. nigrolineatus form from the Rio Caguan, Colombia

L203 (DATZ 2/1996)

Collected from the Rio Ucayali drainage Peru and upper Amazon

L204 (DATZ 2/1996)

Collected from the middle to upper Ucayali drainage, Peru

L206 (DATZ 2/1996)

Collected from the middle to upper Ucayali drainage, Peru

Probably a young P. changae.

L 271 (DATZ 11/1998)

Collected from the Rio Tapajos, Brazil

L 272 (DATZ 11/1998)

Collected from the Rio Tocantins, Brazil

L 296 (DATZ 3/2001)

Collected from the Rio Aripuana, Brazil

L 306 (DATZ 2/2002)

aka: LDA 64 (D.A. 10/2001)

Collected from the Takutu River downstream from Lethem

L 329 (DATZ 3/2003)

aka: LDA 27 (D.A 9/1996), LDA 28 (D.A. 3/1997)

Probably collected from the Rio Huallaga at Tingo Maria, Peru. LDA 27 appears to be a young L 329 and LDA 28 an adult.

L 330 (DATZ 4/2003)

DATZ states that this form of P. nigrolineatus comes from the Rio Guejar, Colombia in the Orinoco basin. My contacts among the exporters of Colombia claim the fish comes from the Caqueta region, Amazon basin.

L 341 (DATZ 9/2003)

Collected near Tarapoto, San Martin Province, Peru

L 351 (DATZ 1/2004)

Collected near Tingo Maria, Rio Huallaga, Peru

L 374 (DATZ 2004)

Collected in the upper Rio Anapu, Brazil

LDA 29 (D.A. 3/1997)

Collected in Peru. Drainage unknown.

LDA 65 (D.A. 10/2001)

This is the large Panaque species found in the main channels of the Amazon river.

DiscussionThere are currently nine described Panaque species and another 15 or so imported for the hobby that do not appear to have been scientifically described. There is also the possibility that one, or more, of the different forms of P. nigrlolineatus could turn out to be a distinct species. This number may become smaller as some of the unidentified species imported for the hobby are matched up with described species. It may also grow as new Panaque species are sought out and imported for the aquarium trade.

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