Vampire Fish discovered in the Amazon
Tina Butler, mongabay.com
May 19, 2005
A new species, dubbed the ‘vampire fish,’ was recently discovered in the Araguaia River of the Amazon Basin. The origin of the ominous title is the species’ form of feeding. The yet unnamed fish is a parasitic species, that lives off the blood of its hosts. The ‘vampire fish’ is a close, but smaller relative of the candiru, a similarly parasitic, blood-sucking species of catfish found in the same region.
The candiru is notorious in the Amazon for its unpleasant parasitic practices. This diminutive catfish burrows into body orifices, securing itself to its host with spines along its sides and drinking its blood. These fish detect their prey by water streams coming from other fishes’ gills, or in the case of humans, urine streams. The new fish species is transparent and only 25 millimeters long. Scientists believe it is likely to feed off of larger fish by swimming into their gill slits. It is too early to determine whether or not the fish targets hosts as large as humans.
The species was discovered in the murky depths of the bottom of the Amazon River during the filming of a BBC series entitled “Amazon Abyss,” along with three other fish species. For the program, an international team of divers and scientists set out to record life at the deepest reaches of the river. The Amazon River is incredibly vast–wider and deeper in some places than the English Channel. The area where the ‘vampire fish’ was discovered comprises a series of great scars in the river bed that are more the 300 feet deep in places. Scientists have only begun to explore these mysterious areas but are already uncovering numerous oddities.
The BBC expedition was launched in conjunction with the University of Sao Paulo and was the first to film this habitat. Of the four species discovered by the team, there is a new species of ‘land-living’ fish and a catfish that is the only fish in the world known to eat wood. The BBC is currently holding an interactive vote for the scientific name of the ‘vampire fish.’ The choices are Paracanthopoma dracula, Paracanthopoma irritans, Paracanthopoma minuta, Paracanthopoma nosferatu and Paracanthopoma vampyra, three of which are word plays on the blood-sucking habits of the species. The results of the vote will be revealed on the BBC website.