A rare tropical catfish usually found in the Amazon Basin has been discovered a long way from home – in a Black Country CANAL.
The South American leopard pleco, also known as Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps, amazingly survived despite being dumped in chilly waters in Walsall, West Mids.
The striking yellow and black fish was found by contractors who were draining part of the seven-mile long urban waterway for maintenance work on August 7.
The creature is the first of its kind to be unearthed in a British canal and has left experts baffled.
The fish, which is 20ins (51cm) long on average and difficult to sex and age, is sold to eat algae off the side of tanks, but is also known to feast on dead fish.
The Canal and River Trust believes it must have only been placed into the canal fairly recently by a former pet owner, as it would not have survived the winter.
The catfish, which was found between lock one and lock two of the canal, is now living in a tank at the trust’s headquarters in Northampton.
John Ellis, national fisheries and angling manager with the trust, said: “You’d expect to find the normal, native species when doing this, like perch, bream, or roach.
“But this was totally out of the blue.
“At first, the contractors thought it was a bull head – a native fish that is quite rare to find as they’ve suffered from pollution – but when they were looking at it, it was nothing of the sort.
“They took it back to their headquarters and put it into a tank.
“If a fish is eating, it’s healthy and it’s happily now munching it’s way through the algae on the side of that tank.
“Obviously someone decided they didn’t want it and put it in the canal, but that’s not the right thing to do as there’s lots of issues there, especially around bacteria and parasites.
“It is very rare to find one outside of the Amazon Basin.
“That is where they breed, and they are built to survive the warm South American temperatures.
“Had it not been found when it was, it almost certainly would not have survived through the Autumn.
“The colder temperature would probably have been too much for it, or it would have been eaten by a pike or a heron, or something like that.”
An electric current had been passed through the water to temporarily stun the fish, so that they could be gathered and removed, at which point the rare pleco was found.
A spokesperson for the trust added: “Catfish aren’t unusual in the tropical fish trade but to find one living in the canal – the first one we’ve encountered – is really rare as they wouldn’t normally survive the cold temperature of the canal especially in the winter.
“We think someone has discarded their pet into the canal which is really sad.
“Obviously this is not something we would encourage as non-native fish species can spread diseases and parasites among our native fish population.
“The cat fish is fine and has a new home. It now lives in the Canal & River Trust fish tank which we take to shows to educate people about the fish that live in our waterways.
“He could become our star attraction.”