Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus
Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus
(Orinoco Sailfin Catfish)
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Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus (Hancock, 1828)

Common name: Orinoco Sailfin Catfish

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Weber (1991, 1992) assigned sailfin catfishes to three genera and used the name Liposarcus multiradiatus for this species (a name used in some of the more recent literature). 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). A few distinguishing characteristics also were given by Page and Burr (1991) and Page (1994).

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: 70 cm.

Native Range: Tropical America. Orinoco River basin in northern South America.

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: This catfish is known from various canals and water bodies in south Florida within Dade, Palm Beach, Martin, and Broward counties (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990; Page 1994; Nico, unpublished data).  It is established in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS 2005). The species was first reported from Hawaii in Wahiawa Reservoir, Oahu, in January 1986; it had become one of the most abundant fish in the reservoir by 1989; it also is established in Kaukonahua Stream, Oahu (Devick 1988, 1991). The fish is widely distributed in lower elevation reservoirs and streams on northern Oahu (Devick 1988, 1989; Mundy 2005; Hoover 2004).

Means of Introduction: This armored catfish has been collected in southeastern Florida since about 1971 (Courtenay et al. 1984). Its presence is most likely the result of escapes or releases from aquarium fish farms (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). In Hawaii, introductions are presumably the result of aquarium releases that occurred in the 1980s, possibly as early as 1982 (Devick 1991).

Status: Established in Florida and Hawaii. Recent surveys in Florida indicate its range may be expanding (Nico, unpublished data).

Impact of Introduction: Largely unknown. In Hawaii, the thousands of nesting tunnels excavated by male Pterygoplichthys in reservoir and stream banks have contributed to siltation problems (Devick 1989). Because of their abundance in Hawaii, Pterygoplichthys and other armored catfishes have the potential to affect native stream species negatively through competition for food and space (Devick 1989). In Florida, this species occupies waters adjacent to Everglades National Park and is considered a threat to the park (Courtenay 1989).

Male members of the genus Pterygoplichthys 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).

Remarks: Many early reports of Hypostomus from south Florida, and some from the Tampa area, may have been based on misidentifications of Pterygoplichthys (Loftus and Kushlan 1987; Ludlow and Walsh 1991). 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).

Voucher specimens: Florida (UF 35606 42194-6, 92163, 92147, 93556, 95725, 96381, 96401, 96414, 96436, 96450, 97857, 98940, 100976, 104460, 104736-7, 116471); Texas (TCWC 14081.06; TNHC 27478, 27554, 43734).

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.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. 1989. Exotic fishes in the National Park System. Pages 237-252 in L. K. Thomas, editor. Proceedings of the 1986 conference on science in the national parks, volume 5. Management of exotic species in natural communities. U.S. National Park Service and George Wright Society, Washington, DC.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and J. R. Stauffer, Jr.. 1990. The introduced fish problem and the aquarium fish industry. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 21(3):145-159.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D. A. Hensley, J. N. Taylor, and J. A. McCann. 1984. Distribution of exotic fishes in the continental United States. Pages 41-77 in W. R. Courtenay, Jr., and J. R. Stauffer, Jr., editors. Distribution, biology and management of exotic fishes. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Devick, W.S. 1988. Disturbances and fluctuations in the Wahiawa Reservoir ecosystem. Project F-14-R-12, Job 4, Study I. Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. 48 pp.

Devick, W.S. 1989. Disturbances and fluctuations in the Wahiawa Reservoir ecosystem. Project F-14-R-13, Job 4, Study I. Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. 30 pp.

Devick, W.S. 1991. Patterns of introductions of aquatic organisms to Hawaiian freshwater habitats. Pages 189-213 in new directions in research, management and conservation of Hawaiian freshwater stream ecosystems. Proceedings of the 1990 symposium on freshwater stream biology and fisheries management, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Loftus, W.F., and J.A. Kushlan. 1987. Freshwater fishes of southern Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum of Biological Science 31(4):255.

Ludlow, M.E., and S.J. Walsh. 1991. Occurrence of a South American armored catfish in the Hillsborough River, Florida. Florida Scientist 54(1):48-5.

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.

Page, L.M. 1994. Identification of sailfin catfishes introduced to Florida. Florida Scientist 57(4):171-172.

Weber, C. 1992. Révision du genre Pterygoplichthys sensu lato (Pisces, Siluriformes, Loricariidae). Revue Francaise d'Aquariologie 19:1-36.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 9/6/2013

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus (Hancock, 1828): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 9/6/2013, 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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