Armored Fish Found in UK

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 27th, 2009

Breaking news out of the UK for March 27, 2009, at first would have you believe that a new coelacanth had been found. The prehistoric creature (above) with scaly skin similar to a crocodile and an impressive set of teeth, was found or hooked, already dead, by schoolboy fisherman Shawn (also spelled “Shaun” in some news accounts) Brown, 14, in the Grand Union Canal at Wigston in Leicestershire.

The youthful Brown said: “I thought it was some sort of monster fish at first. I could see its teeth which looked menacing. It had a really hard back and an ugly look on its face.’

His father Alan, 45, a service engineer, added: “I was really excited. I usually catch perch and pike but this was really amazing. It blew me away.”

The 14-year-old took a picture of his 10 inches-long discovery and showed it to a number of aquarists who managed to name it.

This fish has been identified as an armored suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus), which can grow up to 2 ft long, is a herbivore and uses its distinctive mouth to draw up algae from rocks. Its tough scales act as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. They live in the wild in Panama, Costa Rica and South America.

In some places in the southern US (e.g. Florida and Texas), this species has been introduced from its native range, probably dumped by aquarists into the local waters. For example, they are present in a lake in the neighborhood of Hammock Trace Preserve in Melbourne, Florida. They also have been introduced to several Asian countries as well, and in the Philippines, it is now considered a pest in areas in and around the Laguna de Bay. Suckermouth catfish are often cultured in ponds in Singapore and Hong Kong, where it is very popular for the aquarium trade.

Often called plecos after their Latin name Hypostomus plecostomus, some species can live out of water for up to 30 hours. It is also called commonly referred to as Plecostomus by some aquarists. In the Philippines, in the aquarium trade, it is called the janitor fish. It is often purchased for its ability to clean algae from fish tanks and aquarium rocks.

Experts say it is the first time an armored suckermouth catfish has been found in the waterways of the United Kingdom.

It is thought to have been released into the canal after growing too big for somebody’s aquarium but could not survive in the colder water. They pose no threat to humans although it is not known what effect they would have on native fish if they were to ever breed in the UK.

John Hall, who runs All Seasons Angling tackle shop in Wigston, said: “We are only 300 yards from where Shawn found it and he came in here and showed me the photo. He is a good little fisherman and as soon as he saw it knew it didn’t belong here. He went home and looked it up on the internet to try and see what it was but he had to send it off to experts to identify it. It had teeth as well and I’m sure it was scare a lot of anglers who saw it swimming up river. But it looks worse than it actually is.”

Ian Wellby, a fisheries scientist at Brooksby College, Leics, said: “It is not something you want in your freshwaters but it is quite harmless. It is the first one I have ever heard of in Britain before. It is a warm water fish and could not survive our winters.”

In one of the more bizarre statements that drifted into this account, is this quote from the UK papers: “Experts say it is unlikely to have migrated here because of global warming.”

Realistically and unfortunately for the fish involved, this was not a coelacanth-like discovery but probably only a rather dramatic case of an unloved pet fish being thrown in a nearby ditch.

Sources: Telegraph. Daily Mail, Wikipedia.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

20 Responses to “Armored Fish Found in UK”

  1. tropicalwolf responds:

    A bit of “forced perspective” going on here. It sure appears to be larger than the 10 inches claimed in the article. I truly wish people would learn how to properly document images.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    I really wish these exotic fish would stop getting loose or being introduced into non-native ecosystems. One specimen is probably going to be pretty harmless, but in some cases where many are set loose or they are actively introduced, this sort of thing can lead to some major problems. The thing is, as stated above, we don’t know what the effect would be on native fish in the U.K. We might not know for quite some time, perhaps not until it is already too late to effectively control the damage. In this case, fortunately the habitat itself was not compatible and took care of the problem, but occasionally invasive fish can be a lot more tenacious and adaptable than expected.

    My advice to aquarists is to just keep your fish in your fish tank. At least check into what you are getting yourself into when you buy the fish and have some responsibility if you still decide to make the purchase.

  3. fossilhunter responds:

    Greetings All!

    Gloriosky! I didn’t realize I had two cryptids in the house! I agree that the picture makes it looks like a four foot long fish in that photo! It also looks like someone has roughed it up a some, probably dead for a little bit. It is a tropical fish, and would die if placed in water this time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Aquarium fish as invasive species are showing up more and more often. Several species in Florida, snakeheads out east, flying carp here in Illinois, and tilapia in southeast Asia. Then someone found out they tasted good, and hello Red Lobster! Ornamental water plants too, especially water hyacinth here in the US. One solution I saw the other day were ads for free fish (to a good home) on a site that rhymes with “dreg’s mist”!

    It is important to realize that, like tigers, tropical fish will grow up to be bigger than the size you bought in the pet store! My lesson was buying three pacu, vegetarian relatives of the piranha from the Amazon River. I bought them at the size of a US quarter. They get to about two and a half feet long! My 55 gallon tank was not going to make it past a certain point! I arranged for them to move to a 300 gallon tank.

  4. MattSouth responds:

    First thing I said was, “That’s a pleco!” 🙂

    I’ve been pretty involved with aquarium keeping since I was a kid, everything from freshwater to saltwater reef tanks and live corals. While many of the fellow hobbyists and store owners I know are knowledgeable and responsible, I’ve been saying for years that the hobby as a whole really needs to take greater responsibility. I’ve walked into plenty of stores that import wild saltwater fish that I know almost never survive in captivity, or fish that grow too large for home aquariums.

    Before you start an aquarium or buy a fish, for the sake of the environment and the animals, take the time to buy some good books or go to the library and learn about fishkeeping. Then, it would really help the hobby if we stopped buying from bad stores (read: ignorant employees, lots of dying and sick fish) and patronized good stores. Often aquarium and fish-only shops will give better advice than large chain petshops.

  5. Quakerhead responds:

    This is why piranhas are illegal to own in Louisiana.

  6. cryptidsrus responds:

    Interesting post, Loren.

    Looks like a prehistoric critter, all right.

    I agree this should not be happening in the UK.

  7. youcantryreachingme responds:

    I don’t think it’s a plec. Plecs have skin, not armoured plates, afaik.

  8. Averagefoot responds:

    I have bigger plecos than that in my tanks. It’s like one of the most common aquarium fish. I guess these things are strange to people not in the hobby, but if I fished one up I’d just think, “Huh, someone must have dumped their pleco when it got too big.” Not uncommon really. At least not in the states.

  9. red_pill_junkie responds:

    That’s a big plecos all right. Those are hardy fishes; and the only ones that thrived back when I had an aquarium—’thrive’ meaning they didn’t go belly-up after a week or so 😉

  10. Coot688 responds:

    ” For example, they are present in a lake in the neighborhood of Hammock Trace Preserve in Melbourne, Florida”.

    Whoa! That’s just down the road from me. Its a new subdivision they stuck back in in there:( It was just a nice area of wooded land not too long ago(like a lot of John Rhodes used to be)so I wonder who released that type of fish back there? I suppose just someone who had an aquarium and an exotic fish they didn’t want anymore. Looks like it would be a challenge to clean that fish.

  11. Remus responds:

    Forced perspective for sure. It looks huge at first glance. I have kept a number of plecostomus in tanks but never had one with scales like that. Must be a different variety.

  12. alcalde responds:

    I’ll never forget taking a walk around a lake in a local park last summer that is stocked for fishermen. I observed a quite beautiful (and expensive) orange and black koi fish swimming in the lake alongside the more conventional fish! That was probably not the best place to dump him due to the presence of fishing. He disappeared after a couple of weeks, so either someone scooped him out of there and gave him a better home in a koi pond, or he ended his days in tartar sauce.

  13. zytebac responds:

    These things are alive and well in and around the Hillsborough River near Tampa, Fl. I have seen small ponds, swamp holes and drainage ditches so inundated with these things that the whole surface of the water looked like a writhing black mass. Great for birds and raccoons. Lethal for the indigenous fish population.

    The only other fish that didn’t seem to be affected by the sheer numbers of the armoured cats were the sucker fish, another introduced and invasive species.

    Anacondas, Love bugs, monkeys, Water hyacinths, Parakeets, Cuban Tree Frogs, armoured Catfish. When is the Florida Legislature going to ever come around and Ban all non-native species from coming into the state?

  14. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Quick point on the perspective issue, I’m pretty sure that the plec is pictured on top of a standard fence post in this pic, usually these have a diameter of aprox 15 to 20cm.

    alcalde, here in the uk despite the usually strict environment agency stocking laws, the normally ornamental koi variety of carp is increasingly stocked into commercial coarse fisheries for pleasure anglers. Here it quite often forms ‘hybrids’ with the more familiar king carp varieties such as mirror and common carp. I’m pretty sure they are all variant of the same species (Cyprinus carpio), originally introduced by European monks as a food source.

    We also have resident populations of guppies and platies in some u.k. canals and ponds as well as goldfish and goldfish hybrids, again I assume all as a resulting offshoot of the aquarium trade!

  15. Remus responds:

    That’s a dock post and I’m sure the forced perspective aspect was accidental. Just a handy spot to plunk it down and take a snap.

    As a fisherman, I can say that most states forbid goldfish for use as bait because they work very, very well. And some will certainly get off the hook and live breed another day.

  16. sschaper responds:

    It looks like something came through the Rift!

  17. Rogutaan responds:

    Anacondas, Love bugs, Monkeys, Water hyacinths, Parakeets, Cuban Tree Frogs, Armoured Catfish. When is the Florida Legislature going to ever come around and Ban all non-native species from coming into the state?

    Your forgot about all the lionfish dropped into the Tampa Bay. There’s probably enough lionfish to actually start a viable population…


    There are so many different species that are marketed as “common plecos” so that might be why it doesn’t fit the normal appearance. While those do look like scales, they are actually scutes, which are similar but scientifically different. Catfish do not have scales. I’m guessing since its out of the water and in the sunlight that makes them look like scales. I can’t think of a good way to explain the difference between scales and skutes. Scales are like the hair on your arms, they are not part of the skin. On the other hand skutes are made from epidermis, so skutes, I guess, for all intent and purposes, would be like hardened skin.

    If that makes any sense…

  18. Missylk30 responds:

    It made the news here in Alabama a few years ago because a kid caught what looked like a piranha out of the black warrior river. Turned out to be a less aggressive cousin. Still makes you wonder what people are turning loose.

  19. cryptidprof responds:

    It’s just a pleco or more commonly called a algae eater.

  20. mishkamike responds:

    I just gave away a 23 inch pleco, and still have a 12 inch one. This image is very common and not much to talk about. It has been dead for quite some time, you can tell by the eye.

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