Guwahati: It was thought to be a juvenile specimen of some larger catfish. But researchers, after due examination, found it to be a new species of beautiful dwarf catfish discovered in Nagaland.

The team of researchers, which included J. Praveenraj, Balaji Vijaykrishnan, Lima Akum and Gurumayum Devi, discovered a new species of dwarf catfish, Pseudolaguvia vespa, in the Tsücha River at Khar Village in Nagaland’s Mokokchung district. The discovery was published in the latest issue of Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed taxonomy journal.

Tsücha is a tributary of the Milak River, a south bank tributary of the Brahmaputra.

“It was during April 2021, when my collaborator Lima Akum, who works as an assistant professor at the Fazl Ali College in Mokokchung, shared photos of a miniature catfish from the Tsücha River. Initially, we thought it to be a juvenile specimen of some larger catfish. I asked Lima Akum to send me specimens of the same. Further examination revealed it to be a new species from the genus Pseudolaguvia,” Praveenraj, who is a scientist with the Central Island Agricultural Research Institute in Port Blair, told EastMojo.

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 “It was a chance discovery,” he said. The fish is edible. There are roughly 197 catfish species in India, out of which 125 are found in the Northeast. 

The team further contacted Dr Gurumayum Devi, scientist of the Zoological Survey of India in Arunachal Pradesh, for her support in performing comparative morphological studies with other species of Pseudolaguvia.

Dr. Gurumayum told EastMojo the habitat of Pseudolaguvia is not the torrential big rivers, but they are generally found in smaller stream or channels of stream that are usually found in river beds of big rivers.

Pseudolaguvia are small catfish inhabiting hill streams and large rivers. The northeastern states of India and neighbouring countries (Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar) harbour a total of 21 species of the genus Pseudolaguvia, while two species are known from the Western Ghats of India.

Balaji Vijaykrishnan, an expert on Indian catfish, said: “Pseudolaguvia species are found in shoals in the habitat, sometimes more than one species coexist in the same habitat.”

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Nagaland is known to be the least explored Northeastern state in terms of ichthyology – the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish – and the present discovery signifies so, the team said. The specific name vespa is derived from Latin, meaning wasp, in reference to the alternating chrome-yellow and brown stripes on the body resembling a wasp.

Pseudolaguvia vespa can be identified by the presence of two yellow and brown stripes on the body, a short dorsal-fin spine and other significant mensural characters. 

“The discovery of P. vespa from Nagaland is extremely significant as this is the first record of this genus in the state, and increases the number of species of Pseudolaguvia to 24,” he said.

“Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat’s whiskers, catfish vary in their sizes. For example, the Goonch catfish from India grows to size of 2 metre and the smallest ones are from the genus Pseudolaguvia growing less than 4 centimeters,” Praveenraj explained.

Catfish are valued as food fish and also traded for hobby aquariums. Pseudolaguvia species are also a high-demand item that is exported from India.

In Nagaland, people use ichthyotoxin – compounds that are toxic to fish – in the rivers to catch larger food fish, and the smaller fish like pseudolaguvia die off as a bycatch. “We have a lot of new species from Nagaland to describe in the coming years,” Praveenraj said.  

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