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As we started driving to our motel for the night after fishing and photographing at the Rydak river I asked Andrew about the small and colourful Dario dario, the most colourful of all Badidae. It is a small species of about 2,5cm length but it has a striking pattern of neon blue bands on bright red background. This species is living sympatric with Badis kanabos and blosyrus, so were supposed to be in the right place to find it. I talked our team into making a visit at the end of the day to a habitat Andrew knew. We arrived to locals living quarters, Andrew gave apologies for disturbing their peace and we walked through the fields to a lush river of about 10 meters wide. There was lots of water lilies floating and Myriophyllum and some grasses growing in the water, even algae was growing strong here, probably because of all the farming around. I was afraid maybe the Darios would be hard to find because of aquarium fish collecting and pollution but my fears were way off. Right with the first try under the water lilies with a pushnet there were many specimens of Dario in the net! And the males were very colourful indeed, bright red with neon bands. Andrew told us how he first found this species. He was at another locality where the water was reddish with humic acids. Andrew saw the fishes but because of the water hid the red body colour of the Darios they didnít get his attention right away. Only after he netted the first male specimens up he was amazed by the bright red colour and knew it was definitely something new.
We had an other species that Julian and me were very happy to catch. We got our first zebra danio! We had forgotten about this famous aquarium fish already and it was truly a joy to find it for the first time in its natural habitat. The biotope with almost standing water was probably not the most typical, but it shows itís a hardy and adaptable species. No wonder it is one of the oldest and most common aquarium fishes. Later we found it in small streams, but we did find out that it was not a hill stream species since we never found it at the altitude of the foothills.
Other species at the locality were Microphis and a very small Cyprinid we thought was Oryzias. This small species turned out later to be an undescribed Danionella species!
When we finally reached our resting place for the night we had some nice species from local markets and aquarium fish collectors waiting for us. Most readily identifiable were the Colisa lalia, an old aquarium favourite. One of the nicest fishes was small sized blue Channa, it goes by the name Channa sp. himalaya in the hobby. Other species were the slender and elegant fighting catfish Olyra longicaudata, Nandus nebulosus, Ctenops nobilis, Glass perchesÖ What a day for an aquarium hobbyist!
Somewhere in between I got also stomach problems and fever. That is fairly common westerners travelling in India. What got me down was probably Mystus catfish in mustard sauceÖ I missed a fishing day when Heok Hee and Julian got some nice Danio dangila and Devario devario, along with some other species and the first Yo-Yo loaches Botia almorhae. Luckily antibiotics worked well and I was able to participate the next dayís fishing at the Tista main course, down below a huge dam.
Tista is relatively cool watered river, with temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius and below in Bengal. It is essentially a clear water river. It collects the waters high from the Himalayas in Sikkim state, close to border areas of Tibet and Nepal. When the monsoon begins, water gets more turbid from eroding stone and soil material dissolved to the water. We were told by Andrew that this is the sign for many catfishes to rise upriver breeding.
The Tista river was several hundred meters wide at that dam we visited. Below the damn where water level was lower local people helped us with cast nets and we also were able to try out our own casting technique. I didnít go straight to the main course, but fished with local folks above the damn. There was a large low water area with standing water. Bulrushes and aquatic vegetation were present and with our nets we got mainly four species of fish: Colisa lalia, Puntius gelius, glass perches and Xenentodon. All the Colisa were small sub-adult specimens but Puntius gelius looked really nice. The glass perches I was not able to identify to species but I must say very often a glass perch species is found where small sized Puntius are common. They school often with Puntius partipentazona in Thailand, with Puntius anchisporus in Borneo and so on. Glass perches do not seem to travel well, probably requiring well oxygenated water. That must be the reason for their relatively small numbers in the aquarium hobby.
As I got to the fast flowing main river channel below the dam, the others had already received lots of different species from the local collectors. Among them were some species well adapted to fast flowing waters: Balitora brucei which was first "true" hillstream loach we saw. We found many Schistura and other species belonging to the Nemacheilinae subfamily of Balitoridae hillstream loaches but this was first really flattened species with large fins capable of sucking onto rocks. These fishes belong to the Balitorinae sub-family of the Balitoridae family with Gastromyzon, Psedogastromyzon and other common aquarium sucker belly loaches. The Psilorhynchus barbs were also quite interesting. Psilorhynchus balitora is Cyprinid fish adapted to fast flowing waters. As the name suggests, they bear a resemblance to the hill stream loaches of genus Balitora, being stream lined and having their fins in more horizontal position for better grip to the rocks of flowing waters. Crossocheilus latius and Garra were also present here.
Here I saw the first Botia almorhae on location. This is the common Yo-Yo loach in the hobby with young specimens having the typical markings on their flanks. No other Botia was found here. However we got Acanthocobitis and Lepidocephalus gunthea here. Nice loach catch Ė and somewhat unexpected Ė was Pangio pangia. It is the only Indian Pangio available in the hobby. There should be two forms of it actually. Specimens from more calm waters, ponds and such, are said to posses no pelvic fins.
Some loaches from the Tista:
We got some catfishes here as well. One of them was the true Batasio tengana, catching it actually led to redescription of this species. Batasio catfishes are small shoaling species living in the upper reaches of big rivers. Under the name Batasio tengana has traditionally been mixed three different Indian species: Batasio tengana, Batasio fasciolatus and Batasio spilurus. New material of the B. fasciolatus leading to itís description was from this trip too, actually a find Heok Hee spotted on a fish market on our way through Malbazar town. B. spilurus again is a species found upper in the Brahmaputra river. Typically B. tengana and B. spilurus have short adipose fin base and a dark mid dorsal stripe. B. tengana differs from B. spilurus by having a deeper caudal peduncle and more rounded snout. The market find, Batasio fasciolatus with nice yellowish colouration has distinctive 5-6 bars on its side dorsally and can be mixed only with Batasio tigrinus from Thailand. Descriptions of the three Indian species were made by Heok Hee in 2005.(2)
We got two species of Amblyceps also, Amblyceps laticeps with a truncate caudal and the more common Amblyceps mangois. But best of all we caught a new species of catfish! The new species has been described as Pseudolaguvia foveolata.(3) It is a small Erethistidae catfish with typical bumblebee colouration, more greenish though compared to most Pseudolaguvia. I remember well this species since it was swimming so wildly without rest in our phototank that getting a good picture was virtually impossible. This wild swimmer is differentiated from itís other genus members by a more slender and elongated body. These streamlined adaptations might have something to do with this species habitat which was more fast flowing and rocky with currents compared to the more typical steadily flowing sand bottomed Erethistidae biotopes with low water we had visited earlier. Later this year Andrew submitted yet another Pseudolaguvia catfish to Heok Hee from this location and it has been described as Pseudolaguvia ferula. (4) It is a less contrasty coloured than most other Pseudolaguvia and is higher and narrower in its body form.
This Pseudolaguvia might be closest what we have to a miniature Bagarius, also the more greenish colouration gave that impression. Bagarius catfishes are big predators of large rivers in South East Asia, and those we got in our next fishing place, the Hugli river.
When we returned the 500 kilometers to Colcata from the Northern West Bengal we had still one locality to explore, the Hugli river. Long time ago the Hugli river used to be the sea draining main channel of the Ganges. Nowadays it is a smaller river, a short cut south to the sea from the main river Ganges. The Hugli has medium hard water with a pH around 8 or above. It shares the water properties of the Ganges which means it has a bit higher mineral content and pH compared to ie. Amazonian white water.
Andrew promised we would find many catfishes here in the more hot climate of the lowlands. As we arrived we noticed the river was quite big more than 100 meters wide and also deep since many boats and ferries travelled here.
We went onto small boats the local fishermen paddled to the open water. The fishermen had about three meters wide nets that were made between two bamboo sticks horizontally. Nets were thrown to the water and dragged close to the bottom of the river in few meters depth. This unique technique they had was perfect for catching small catfishes and of course what I refer here "we caught" was all skills of those fishermen. With its turbid water the river didnít quite look the best possible habitat for a diverse catfish fauna, especially for Sisoridae, but there I was wrong!
When the fishermen pulled the nets up there was many small catfishes stuck to them. They were mostly Sisoridae fishes. I would have imagined that the streamlined species of genus Glyptothorax and the highly elongated Sisor rhabdophorus should have been found at the crystal clear waters of higher altitudes but instead they were common here. The Mystus cats and other Bagrids that I thought would be common here on the lower planes were clearly outnumbered by various Sisoridae catfishes. We did catch a Rita species from Bagridae family and Mystus cavasius but on the other hand we got at least 8 species of Sisoridae catfishes. Among them was the already mentioned Sisor rhabdophorus and juveniles of the giant among Sisoridae, the fish eating sharp toothed Bagarius yarrelli. Slightly more common species were the Glyptothorax we found. Glyptothorax telchitta was the most common species, it has a distinctive very dark coloured top of the dorsal side. Lightly brown coloured Glyptothorax cavia was a smaller species, with noticeable colouration only on the base of the caudal fin. We caught also a small species with very prominent tubercles on the head and the body. This species was Glyptothorax botius and was already considered to be a synonym of G. telchitta. With the specimens we caught Heok Hee was able to make a redescription of this species.(5) It has saddles rather than uniform dark markings on the dorsal side and it has more slender caudal peduncle and laterally viewed more rounded snout compared to the more common G. telchitta.
Other Sisorids here were the Gagata cenia, which were plentiful here and which we found almost 500km north from here back in the Mansai river as well. Nangra assamensis is a more light brown or even golden coloured species we caught here, more slender than the Gagata. Another rare Sisorid here was Gogangra viridescens, a species closely related to Gagata, a bit smaller and bulkier on the head structure but with similar colouration. One of the most peculiar fishes among the catches was Ailia coila, a member of the Schilbeidae family whose close relatives are the African glass catfishes. Ailia coila is silvery, almost transparent, and uniquely it has no dorsal fin. Another Schilbeidae catfish present here was Eutropiichthys vacha. Non-catfish species were on minority, from the location we obtained also Cynoglossus soles, Botia dario and Doryichthys pipefishes. But the fun didnít end there. One of the most delighting things on our trip was spotting fresh water dolphins in the Hugli. I wasnít sure at first what I had seen from the shaky boat but as it happened more times that the dolphins emerged smoothly to get a breath of fresh air from surface of the river around us I believed it. That was a great sight to see and with all the catfishes we found was nice to know a river with such huge population around it could be this diverse in its fauna.
Catfishes from the Hugli:
1 Ng, H. H., 2005. Erethistoides sicula, a new catfish (Teleostei: Erethistidae) from India.. Zootaxa 1021:1-12
2 H.H. Ng (2006). The identity of Batasio tengana (Hamilton, 1822), with the description of two new species of Batasio from northeastern India (Teleostei: Bagridae). Journal of Fish Biology: 68 (Supplement A): 101Ė118
3 Ng, H. H., 2005. Pseudolaguvia foveolata, a new catfish (Teleostei: Erethistidae) from northeast India.. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwat. 16(2):173-178.
4 Ng, HH (2006). Pseudolaguvia ferula, a new species of sisoroid catfish (Teleostei: Erethistidae) from India. Zootaxa, 1229: 59Ė68 (2006)
5 Ng, H.H., 2005. Glyptothorax botius (Hamilton, 1822), a valid species of catfish (Teleostei: Sisoridae) from northeast India, with notes on the identity of G. telchitta (Hamilton, 1822).. Zootaxa 930:1-19.