Pterygoplichthys sp.
Pterygoplichthys sp.
(sailfin armored catfish)
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Pterygoplichthys sp.

Common name: sailfin armored catfish

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Weber (1991, 1992) assigned sailfin catfishes to three genera. 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).

Native Range:
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Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: One specimen of unidentified Pterygoplichthys was collected from ponds in Big Tujunga Wash, Los Angeles County, California, in 2005 (museum specimen). A single specimen of sailfin catfish was collected from Doty Pond, Morgan County, Colorado, in 2005 (P. Walker, personal communication). Unidentified species of Pterygoplichthys (including possible hybrids) have been found in numerous locations in Florida, from the counties of Brevard, Charlotte, Clay, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, ad Volusia, and from drainages including the Caloosahatchee, Orange, Myakka, Peace, Santa Fe, St. Johns, and St. Sebastian rivers, various south Florida canals and creeks, and Everglades National Park (Champeau et al. 2009; Dutka-Gianelli et al. 2009; Idelberger et al 2011; Nico et al. 2012; L. Ambler, personal communication; F. Hamill, personal communication; J. Kline, personal communication; S. Liston, personal communication; J. Miller, personal communication; P. Schofield, personal communication; J. Schulke, personal communication; museum specimens). A sailfin catfish (identified as a hybrid Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus x P. pardalis) was collected from the Chicago River, Illinois, in 2004 (museum specimen). Sailfin catfish have been collected from Las Vegas Wash, and observed in Lake Mead, Nevada (Brean 2004, 2013; M. Guerin, personal communication). Several specimens (likely P. anisitsi) have been collected in waterways around Houston, Harris County, Texas (R. Howells, personal communication). An additional specimen was collected from brackish water near Port Mansfield, Cameron County (M. Lingo, personal communication). A single specimen was collected by divers in Long Lake, near Olympia, Washington, in 2002 (K. Aitkin, personal communication). A single specimen was collected from a hydroelectric facility on the Yellow River, Wisconsin, in 2002 (K. Scheidegger, personal communication)

Status: Sailfin catfishes are established in Florida, Nevada, and Texas. Failed in other locations.

Impact of Introduction: Male members of the genus Pterygoplichthys use crevices in canals or dig into river banks to create burrows in which an attracted female will lay and guard her eggs. When populations are large, 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 and potential bank failures (Nico et al. 2009). Several authors have shown interactions between the endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) and Pterygoplichthys catfishes in Florida freshwater springs that are used by both species as winter thermal refuges. Nico et al (2009), Gibbs et al. (2010), and Nico (2010) described this behavior and determined that manatees onto which Pterygoplichthys catfish (possibly P. disjunctivus) had attached demonstrated higher activity levels and numbers of active behaviors.

Remarks: Sailfin suckermouth catfishes (Pterygoplichthys spp.) are capable of surviving mesohaline conditions (up to 10 PSU) for extended periods of time, allowing them to use estuarine and coastal areas for dispersal (Capps et al. 2011; W. Loftus, personal communication).

Museum specimens: California (LACM 56272.001), Florida (FSBC 18751, 19238, 19945, 20867; UF 91916, 114678, 135348, 174367), Illinois (INHS 98890).

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.

Brean, H. 2004. Habitattitude campaign: Fish stories have bad endings. Las Vegas Review Journal. September 27, 2004.

Brean, H. 2013. Discarded, non-native fish find home in Clark County waterways. Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas, NV. Created on 03/17/2013. Accessed on 09/16/2013.

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.

Champeau, T.R., P.W. Stevens, and D.A. Blewett. 2009. Comparison of fish community metrics to assess long-term changes and hurricane impacts at Peace River, Florida. Biological Sciences 72(4):289-309.

Dutka-Gianelli, J., D. Tremain, and R. Paperno. 2009. Fish assemblages in tidal and non-tidal freshwater tributaries of the Indian River Lagoon. Final report for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Project SWG06-010. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Tallahassee, FL.

Gibbs, M., T. Futral, M. Mallinger, D. Martin, and M. Ross. 2010. Disturbance of the Florida manatee by an invasive catfish. Southeastern Naturalist 9:635-648.

Idelberger, C.F., C.J. Stafford, and S.E. Erickson. 2011. Distribution and abundance of introduced fishes in Florida’s Charlotte Harbor estuary. Gulf and Caribbean Research 23:13-22.

Nico, L.G. 2010. Nocturnal and diurnal activity of armored suckermouth catfish (Loricariidae: Pterygoplichthys) associated with wintering Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris). Neotropical Ichthyology 8(4):893-898.

Nico, L.G., P.L. Butt, G.R. Johnston, H.L. Jelks, M. Kail, and S.J. Walsh. 2012. Discovery of South American suckermouth armored catfishes (Loricariidae, Pterygoplichthys spp.) in the Santa Fe River drainage, Suwanee River basin, USA. BioInvasions Records 1(3):179-200.

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.

Nico, L.G., W.F. Loftus, and J.P. Reid. 2009. Interactions between non-native armored suckermouth catfish (Loricariidae: Pterygoplichthys) and native Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) in artesian springs. Aquatic Invasions 4(3):511-519.


Other Resources:
Suckermouth catfishes: threat to aquatic ecosystems of the United States.  Army Corps of Engineers

Fact Sheet for Pterygoplichthys anisitsi - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Fact Sheet for Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Fact Sheet for Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Fact Sheet for Pterygoplichthys pardalis - USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Author: Matt Neilson, and Matt Cannister

Revision Date: 10/21/2013

Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016

Citation Information:
Matt Neilson, and Matt Cannister, 2018, Pterygoplichthys sp.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 10/21/2013, Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016, Access Date: 1/22/2018

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 [1/22/2018].

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