Pterygoplichthys pardalis
Pterygoplichthys pardalis
(Amazon Sailfin Catfish)
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Pterygoplichthys pardalis (Castelnau, 1855)

Common name: Amazon Sailfin Catfish

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Weber (1991, 1992) assigned sailfin catfishes to three genera and used the name Liposarcus pardalis for this species. Armbruster (1997), after a detailed systematic review, placed the genus Liposarcus into the synonymy of Pterygoplichthys. Weber (1992) provided a key and distinguishing characteristics and photographs of specimens; Armbruster and Page (2006) present a revised key to species in the genus Pterygoplichthys (except P. ambrosettii).

Pterygoplichthys and other suckermouth armored catfishes (family Loricariidae) can be distinguished from native North American catfishes (Ictaluridae) by the presence of flexible bony plates (absent in ictalurids) and a ventral suctorial mouth (terminal in ictalurids). Pterygoplichthys is often confused with Hypostomus: these genera can be distinguished by the number of dorsal fin rays (7-8 in Hypostomus vs. 9-14 in Pterygoplichthys).

Size: generally to 50 cm TL

Native Range: Tropical America. Amazon River basin.

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: Pterygoplichthys pardalis has been present in the thermally polluted Julian Lake, North Carolina since 1997 (Bryn, T., personal communication). A single specimen was taken in Cherokee County, South Carolina, from the Broad River at 99 Island Dam in 1992 (museum specimen). Recently established in California (C. Swift, personal communication) and Puerto Rico.

Means of Introduction: Probable aquarium release.

Status: Established in Julian Lake, North Carolina and reported from South Carolina.

Impact of Introduction: Male members of the genus Pterygoplichtys dig out river banks to create burrows in which an attracted female will lay and guard her eggs. In large numbers, this burrowing behavior by Pterygoplichthys contributes to problems with siltation. In addition, the burrows potentially destabilize the banks, leading to an increased rate of erosion (Nico et al. 2009). Diurnal aggregations of Pterygoplichthys can potentially alter nutrient dynamics by creating biogeochemical hotspots through nitrogen and phosphorus excretion and remineralization (Capps and Flecker 2013).

Because it grazes and removes attached algae, and also feeds on benthic organisms and detritous, this introduced catfish may be having a significant impact on the aquatic food base and, therefore, negatively effecting native invertebrate and vertebrate species (Nico, personal observations).

Remarks: Sailfin suckermouth catfishes (Pterygoplichthys spp.) are capable of surviving mesohaline conditions (up to 10 ppt) for extended periods of time, allowing for the use of estuarine and coastal areas for dispersal (Capps et al. 2011).

L. Page has examined the specimen from South Carolina (UF 93286) and confirmed its identification as Pterygoplichthys pardalis.

References: (click for full references)

Armbruster, J.W., and L.M. Page. 2006. Redescription of Pterygoplichthys punctatus and description of a new species of Pterygoplichthys (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Neotropical Ichthyology 4(4):401-409.

Capps, K.A., and A.S. Flecker. 2013. Invasive fishes generate biogeochemical hotspots in a nutrient-limited system. PLoS ONE 8(1):e54093.

Capps, K.A., L.G. Nico, M. Mendoza-Carranza, W. Arévlo-Frías, A.J. Ropicki, S.A. Heilpern, and R. Rodiles-Hernández. 2011. Salinity tolerance of non-native suckermouth armoured catfish (Loricariidae: Pterygoplichthys) in south-eastern Mexico: implications for invasion and dispersal. Aquatic Conservtion: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 21:528-540.

Nico, L.G., H.L. Jelks, and T. Tuten. 2009. Non-native suckermouth armored catfishes in Florida: description of nest burrows and burrow colonies with assessment of shoreline conditions. Aquatic Nuisance Species Research Program Bulletin 9(1): 1-30.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 9/4/2013

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Pterygoplichthys pardalis (Castelnau, 1855): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 9/4/2013, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/21/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/21/2018].

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