Shane's World Right Catfishology Right The White Seam Bristlenoses

Article © Ingo Seidel, uploaded October 10, 2008.

Translation by Kate McKay

Ancistrus dolichopterus
1. Wonderful specimen of A. dolichopterus approx 8cm long (L183)

In the genus Ancistrus there is a whole series of species which show a pattern of markings consisting of white dots on a dark grey or black background. A few of these species in their youth even show a white border on the tail fin. However at the moment I know of only four species that, at least as juveniles, show not only fine white spots but also a fine white edging of almost regular thickness on the dorsal fin as well as the tail fin and can therefore can rightly be described as White seam bristlenose. This group of relatives we speak of is the so-called Ancistrus hoplogenys group whose representatives all come from the Amazon region of Brazil. We are talking about not only Ancistrus hoplogenys but also Ancistrus dolichopterus and certainly other, as yet undescribed, species which nevertheless are known by the code numbers L088 and L071. The latter species have, because of their wide distribution, acquired at least a further two L numbers: L181 and L249. In the following I would like to introduce these four bristlenose catfish and show the differences between them.

Ancistrus dolichopterus or L 183 - the genuine Blue Bristlenose or White seam Bristlenose.
The only Bristlenose from this group that is imported frequently and in greater numbers is Ancistrus dolichopterus, which is also known as L183. This is a very attractive fish even in adulthood and occurs in the lower and middle course of the Rio Negro in quite varied types of waters (see Romer 1990). Until recently L183 was mostly still described incorrectly as Ancistrus hoplogenys. However there is no longer any doubt that White seam bristlenose is much more comparable to Ancistrus dolichopterus (see Seidel 2004). The species name translated means "with long fin" and is an allusion to the large number of fin rays in comparison to other Ancistrus species, being supported by 8-10 soft rays while in almost all other representatives of this genus 7-8 rays is the rule. This high number of dorsal rays is also the most noticeable difference from the other three White Seam bristlenoses pictured here. Furthermore it is the only one of the four species to have a white band on the dorsal and tail fin even in adulthood. As well as this the background colour of the species can be very variable, from pitch black to whitish or blue grey and also the spots can be white, bluish or hardly visible. The nickname blue bristlenose which is more commonly used in Germany is linked with Ancistrus dolichopterus because of the blue shimmer which is not always clearly evident.

In its earliest youth, Ancistrus dolichopterus distinguishes itself from the very similar L071, which loses the white fin bands in adulthood, only by the number of fin rays. As far as science is concerned these two different species are not separated, since Ichthyologists do not have the luxury afforded to aquarists of being able to observe live fish and their colour at all stages of life. And so Fisch-Muller (1999, 2003) attributes to A. dolichopterus a much larger area of distribution than this species has in reality. Fisch-Muller concedes though, that A. dolichopterus never has as high a number of fin rays as those occurring in the Rio Negro basin. In my opinion the real A. dolichopterus (L 183) has never yet been detected anywhere else. According to Romer they can be found in the river system of the Rio Negro in black water and white water as well as in some types of clear water (see Evers & Seidel 2002, S 70ff). This species typically lives in water of around 26-32 C depending on season; the water is very soft and most often very noticeably acidic.  

Sexually mature males of Ancistrus dolichopterus can develop a powerful "antler", which is not typical and which often has multiple branched tentacles at its end. A special characteristic of the species furthermore is that even the females show unusually numerous, pronounced tentacles. Whereas females of other Ancistrus species mostly have only few short tentacles along the edge of the snout, the L183 females often also have somewhat longer and even branched outgrowths of skin at the front of the head, because of which the differentiation of sexes just before sexual maturity, which in many Ancistrus species is easily possible, is made very difficult in this species. The A. dolichopterus, which at the moment are always shipped from Manaus, are as a rule not more than 10-12 cm long and often already sexually mature. In the wild however they can grow significantly bigger and reach lengths up to an unbelievable 25-30 cm. So far I have only once set eyes on such big fish. What was noticeable with these fish was that even at this size they were still just as attractively marked as juvenile specimens can be.

The care of A. dolichopterus demands great attention from the outset, as the newly imported fish are still very frail. Once they are acclimatized, the fish can be kept without any problem in harder water. Soft water is admittedly best with acidic pH in the region of 5.0 - 6.5, which one should give to the fish in any case for breeding. In this respect, this species is significantly more demanding than the other three, whose breeding is still possible at a somewhat higher pH. In the first few weeks of life the young fish have really very few spots and a vertical white seam on the tail fin which disappears shortly thereafter.

Ancistrus dolichopterus`
2. Blue or White seam bristlenose - less attractive specimen but with noticeable blue shimmer

Ancistrus dolichopterus
3. Mouthparts of A. dolichopterus

Ancistrus dolichopterus
4. The dorsal fin of A. dolichopterus shows a higher number of fin rays (8-10 soft rays)

Rio Negro
5. The Rio Negro and its tributaries are the habitat of Ancistrus dolichopterus

Ancistrus hoplogenys or L059
When the catfish L059 was first introduced by Stawikowski (1990) it was rightly assigned to the group Ancistrus hoplogenys. The fact that with this species we were talking about the genuine Ancistrus hoplogenys itself could at that time only have been at best a guess and it was not until the dissertation of the Swiss ichthyologist Sonia Fisch-Muller that clarity on this subject was reached. Similarly to the Ancistrus dolichopterus, scientists attributed an enormous area of distribution to this species. I believe however that it is wrong, that the Taxa Chaetostomus alga, which at that time was regarded as a synonym for Ancistrus hoplogenys, and Chaetostomus tectirostris from Peru as well as Chaetostomus (Ancistrus) cirrhosus punctata from the North of Brazil are identified with this species. In keeping with current knowledge, I would like to restrict the distribution of Ancistrus hoplogenys to the river system of the Rio Guama in state of Para in north east Brazil, to which also belongs the Rio Capim, the typical locality of the species. In the case of other similar catfish from Guyana, Paraguay, Peru and other parts of Brazil, it is certainly a matter of different species and even of species partly distinguishable from one another. Until now no fish anywhere near as prettily coloured as L059 had been found anywhere else in Brazil. With this species too, we have it easier in comparing living specimens than the scientists who work with partly faded museum specimens, so such mistakes should be understandable.

The catfish L059 was discovered by Kilian, Ludwig and a few collectors from the firm Tropicarium Para (Belem) in the summer of 1989 in a small tributary of the Rio Guama in the vicinity of the village Ourem. The hunters described this place of discovery as a smallish quite flat clear water river, in which the fish preferred to attached themselves to submerged wood, for example the wooden supports of a road bridge. The firm Transfish (Planegg) succeeded several times in importing fish of this species to Germany and in the meantime Werner (Transfish) has been able to breed A. hoplogenys in the aquarium. This bristlenose is the rarest and at the same time the most sought after species of this group and it is to be hoped that it can be maintained though breeding since new imports are hardly to be expected.

Regarding the distribution of the white spots, Ancistrus hoplogenys is particularly similar to the other species described here. However the young of this species show a strongly red brown portion of the fins in the form of round flecks as well as larger areas, especially on the rim of the fin. With increasing age these red parts die away more and more. Even the white fin borders become narrower and narrower and finally disappear completely. The final size of this species can lie between 16-18cm. Perhaps it would be larger in the wild. The dorsal fin of this species has only 7 soft rays.

Ancistrus hoplogenys`
6. Young Ancistrus hoplogenys (L059) with strong red area on the fins (Photo: Bernd Kilian)

Ancistrus hoplogenys
7. A somewhat older specimen of the species already with noticeably less red. (Photo: Bernd Kilian)

Ancistrus sp. (L 71/ L 181/ L 249) - The Spotted Bristlenose
One bristlenose which has "swum across my path" in the most varied river systems and that is very easily confused with Ancistrus dolichopterus, is one with a very broad distribution in the Amazon. Over the years I have been sure that in the catfish L071 from the Rio Tapajos, L 181 from the Rio Tefe as well as L249 from the Rio Trombetas, we are talking about the same species. I received further specimens of this species from Gottwald (Aquatarium) from the Rio Xingu. From Salathe I was able to definitely assign a specimen caught in the Rio Manacapuru with the help of pictures. In addition to this I myself managed to detect the species in a lake in the drainage region of the Rio Jauari near Priana. All of these places of origin are in the area of the middle to lower Amazon and are of clear or black water types with soft water, acidic water chemistry (pH roughly 5.0 - 6.5). The water temperature in these waters are as a rule quite high, sometimes I was able to measure 30-32 C or higher especially in the dry season. In the Rio Tefe I was able to hold specimens of more that 25 cm long in my hands. At 10-12 cm long young males already show a good growth of tentacles and appear therefore to be already sexually mature. In aquarium conditions the fish often stop growing at 12-13 cm.

In her review of the genus Ancistrus which admittedly only exists so far as an unpublished doctoral thesis, Fisch-Muller regards this species as identical to Ancistrus dolichopterus. According to Fisch-Muller A. dolichopterus has a gigantic area of distribution in the Amazon. As for of the specimens examined by her from the Rio Trombetas, the Rio Tapajos, the Rio Tefe and the Rio Madeira (possibly L 292), it is certainly not a case of A. dolichopterus in the narrower sense, which as already mentioned, can be proved in other ways than just from differences in the number of dorsal fin rays. In adulthood the species can also be distinguished from A. dolichopterus simply by its colour, since at 4cm length the fish already begins to lose first the white seam of the dorsal fin then a little later also the seam on the tail fin. Finally they also have the dots on the body which turn out to be marginally finer than in A. dolichopterus. However, quite young specimens show an almost identical colouring to this species at first, even the white strip at the base of the caudal is apparent in the first weeks of life and does not disappear until later.

The spotted bristlenose belongs to the most highly recommended of the more beautiful of the Ancistrus species, since the species is really unproblematic in its care. The fish breed in whatever suitable breeding caves are available mostly without any lowering of the pH level and can be really quite productive. The rearing of the young is no problem, but more on that in the last section of this report.

Ancistrus sp. L071
8. Manaus import of the spotted bristlenose of unknown origin

Ancistrus sp. L071
9. Specimen from the Rio Tapajos are described as L071

Ancistrus sp. L071
10. Spotted bristlenose from the Rio Tefe shortly after being caught

Ancistrus sp. L071
11. In the tributaries of the Rio Tefe as here in Igarape Piraruaia L181 is remarkably common

Ancistrus sp. L071
12. L249 from the Rio Trombetas definitely belongs to the same species

Ancistrus sp. L071
13. In the Lago Geral these fish live mostly on submerged tree roots.

Ancistrus sp. L071
14. Underside of the spotted bristlenose

Ancistrus sp. L071
15. The dorsal fin of this species is supported by 7-8 soft rays

Ancistrus sp. L071
16. Young spotted bristlenose of 21mm total length

Ancistrus sp. L071
17. 38 mm long young fish, on which the vertical band on the tail fin as well as the band on the dorsal fin has already almost disappeared

Ancistrus sp. L071
18. This 7cm juvenile already shows no fin bands at all

Ancistrus sp. (L088) - The black bristlenose
By observing a fully grown specimen of this species you would definitely not have any idea that L088 is classified as a close relation to A. dolichopterus and A. holplogenys. Adult fish are completely grey black colouration without any sign of white spots or white seams on the fins. Schraml (1992) presented this interesting Ancistrus species for the first time in a different place thus unintentionally causing me such a headache in the past years. Again and again I compared dark coloured Manaus imports from Brazil with Schraml's picture, but I was never really sure that I had found the genuine L088. Then I had a visit from a great fish mate of mine from the Oberpfalz, who totally unexpectedly brought me a group including sexually mature dark grey Ancistrus. (Many thanks Ernst for that surprise !) He told me that he had picked out the fish from a Manaus import. At once I was sure this time that I had L088, because the colouring, the development of the "antler" of the male as well as the bluish-white colour of the eyes agreed exactly with Schraml's picture of L088. The eye colour of this species seems, like the background colour, to depend very much on their mood and is very variable. In their “display colouring" the fish are almost black and their eye colour is almost reminiscent of the blue eyed Panaque (Panaque cochliodon).

In the meantime I am quite sure that the Ancistrus sp. "blue eyes" and Ancistrus sp. "black" pictured by Seidel & Evers (2005), which were both imported from Manaus, are identical to L088. Though a verbal statement from Wilhelm (see Evers and Seidel) we know that L088 lives for example in the Rio Demini,a tributary of the middle of the Rio Negro near Barcelos. In this clear water river however he could have detected this species in the upper reaches where it is at home in very soft acidic waters of about 26-29 C. How much further the distribution of this Ancistrus reaches is so far unknown. The Rio Demini is the main catchment area of catfish in the Rio Negro river system and Loricariids like Pseudacanthicus sp. (L114), Hypancistrus sp. (L136) and Panaque sp. (LDA001/L169) - to name but a few - are found, as well as Ancistrus dolichopterus *syntop* to L088. For this reason it is always a possibility with new imports of L088, that this species at least in adult colours, is comparatively plain and therefore might not be of the variety the 'catcher' would have preferred.

The L088s I kept had a total length of 11-12 cm and were at that size fully sexually mature. However it is entirely possible that this species could grow significantly larger in the wild. Within a short time of having them, I succeeded in breeding them without great deal of effort. I kept the fish along with a few other catfish in a 200 litre tank which was filled with my own mix of tap water and reverse osmosis water, which I use for the breeding of other species I have sold. The pH was in the region of neutral. Since I had not reckoned on success so soon I can't say a lot about brood care, spawning and egg size. I was once surprised by a group of white banded young who had come out to eat and, when they were disturbed, darted quickly back to their hiding places. The young L088s as with all representatives of this group have at first a white border to the dorsal and caudal fins. The white spots, though, are not so numerous and the young does not have the white band at the base of the tail fin. At a length of 4-5 cm the spots have almost completely disappeared and at that stage only remnants of the white fin seams are visible.

Ancistrus sp. L071
20. Fully grown male of L088 in normal colouring

Ancistrus sp. L071
21. This fish gives us a good view of the blue eye colour

Ancistrus sp. L071
22. Underside of L088

Ancistrus sp. L071
23. The dorsal fin of L088 is supported by 7 soft rays

Ancistrus sp. L071
24. Young L088 of 17mm length

Ancistrus sp. L071
25. A 28mm young fish already with pretty markings

Ancistrus sp. L071
26. From a length of 4-5 cm upwards the white spots are no longer visible

A few closing remarks on the breeding of White seam bristlenose, in particular about the rearing of young from this group, which does not turn out so be quite as simple as is often the case with other 'normal' bristlenoses. This leads us back to the origin of this fish. The white seam bristlenose lives as a rule in rivers of extremely soft water, in black and clear water with a barely detectable hardness and a very low pH. Experience shows that because of the high content of germ limiting substances the number of germs in such waters is extremely low. Correspondingly many of the fish from areas of this kind are extremely sensitive to bacterial pathogens. There is such a massive build up of pathogenic germs that we could have unknowingly allowed to breed relatively quickly in our aquariums, and to which they are quite unused to in the wild. While adult fish are, as a rule, strong enough and can be kept for many years in less than optimal conditions, the immune defences in the bodies of the young are often very quickly overcome. This manifests itself through various signs for example fusing of the fins and open/ulcerated bright areas on the body. These can develop into really deep craters or, in a very short time, first the fins and then the tail of the fish rot until finally it dies.

A high occurrence of germs can be fought in various ways. The most effective method is regular changes of water; the more often you manage to do this the better the fry thrive. We know from experience that White seam bristlenose juveniles get on well with a 50 % water change once a week in a tank which is not too small. Also a lowering of pH in the breeding tank will naturally limit the number of germs, only I have noticed in my experience that there is no point is doing this when breeding of armoured catfish in aquarium conditions. For this reason I always acclimatize young fish as soon as possible to pH neutral water of medium hardness, even if, for purposes of successful breeding of certain species, I have at first had to use soft acidic water. Under conditions similar to the wild (soft, acidic water) you have the following problems. The fry of algae eating armoured catfish need a lot of food, almost constantly. In order to make sure they are getting enough food they are usually given more than they actually eat. Unfortunately most snails, which would otherwise be put in to polish off the left over food, cannot survive in calcium poor water, and so food is constantly rotting and causing pollution of the water that we simply cannot allow in the case of these sensitive fry. On the other hand even the fry of soft water catfish generally do very well in somewhat harder water. They don't absolutely need this lower pH but they do need the relatively germ free environment which have to try to provide for them by whatever means, and we must try to achieve this by frequent water changes. Furthermore we can of course in certain conditions keep the germ level low and extend the interval between water changes by adding a UV-water clearer. The frequently expressed doubt, that fish bred in such a way should later have problems with their immune defences in normal (high germ) conditions is completely unfounded, since by the addition of a UV water clearer the water is not made sterile and is never even as low in germs as the fish would be used to in their natural home.

If you have got the knack for these fish and are successful in breeding them, they can even be quite productive. The reward for a breeder is a fairly certain market, since the demand for unusual and prettily coloured catfish is still high. So you would not be left with the breeders worst fear, namely that he might be stuck with his own product.

There is further information on this species on the Cat-eLog page.

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