The Bulldog-Catfish
May 14, 2014

The Bulldog-Catfish

I have never really cared to go fishing. My roommate loves it, but I am much less of a fan. This might be, in part, due to the fact that I really do not like fish. It’s a textural thing. I find them disgusting. Thus, I have never had that great of an interest in fish as a whole. The ocean, sure, I find that fascinating. The alien landscape, the mystery, the near limitless possibilities of what we might discover down there, it is all incredible. I adore sharks, of course, and you can find me glued to the television every year during Shark Week, but in terms of overall interest, fish and I have rarely seen eye-to-eye. Not really a dog fan either, but that comes more from being bitten as a small child and developing something of a phobia regarding them. So when I first heard about a “bulldog-like catfish,” my initial thoughts on the subject were those of disinterest. Still, I try to make a point of reading up on things I do not know about, both out of my own general curiosity and so I can tell you about them here, so I read on.

My thoughts on it now? “Neat.”

To call the Kryptoglanis shajii an odd looking fish would be something of an understatement. This is a creature that looks like it belongs in some science fiction horror movie rather than a real-life creature of the deep. Rarely seen, these tiny, subterranean catfish only turns up in springs, flooded rice paddies, and wells in the Western Ghats mountain region of Kerala, India. First classified as a new species in 2011, this is a fish that has become all the more interesting the more it is studied as even now, no one is really sure how to classify the thing. According to John Lundberg, PhD and one of the world’s leading authorities on catfish, “The characteristics of this animal are just so different that we have a hard time fitting it into the family tree of catfishes.”

The Kryptoglanis shajii is lacking several bony elements common to most catfish, which is not all that uncommon in subterranean fish, but there are also many differences in the shape of certain bones that have led researchers to classify them as simply “unique.” Most of these differences are found in the face, giving the fish a flat-face much like that of a bulldog’s snout, but with four rows of conical, needle-like teeth. In dogs, these flat faces are the result of selective breeding to create what some might consider a cuter looking face, but in the Kryptoglanis shajii, no one is sure what might have caused their natural evolution to come to this unusual shape. In addition to this, DNA markers for the animal have thus far been unhelpful in classifying what other catfish the Kryptoglanis shajii might be most closely related to, as subterranean animals like this one have vastly different DNA sequences from both each other and from any of their more open-water relatives. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify their evolutionary history.

No matter what, nature will always find a way to give us a curve ball we do not expect. Almost as though from another world, the Kryptoglanis shajii is a remarkable little fish with a lot of mystery behind it.

Image Credit: Kyle Luckenbill, Drexel University

Kyle Luckenbill, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – See more at:
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