Wait, is that plecos reffling?

The armored catfish, a.k.a. plecos of aquarium fame, demonstrates reffling. (courtesy Cool Green Science)

Read the entire article from Cool Green Science: You are probably familiar with these catfish, commonly called plecos. Fish enthusiasts often keep them to clear algae from their tanks. If you’ve ever seen a sucker-mouthed catfish clinging to the glass walls of your friend’s aquarium, you know the pleco.

Unfortunately, irresponsible aquarium keepers often dump their tanks. This has led to invasive fish around North America, particularly in warm-water environments. Two species of neotropical suckermouth catfish are now abundant and widespread in Florida. They are also found in Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and pretty much anywhere the water stays warm enough year round. They live by scraping algae off rocks and other hard surfaces.

“They burrow into riverbanks, causing erosion,” says Bressman. “They churn up the river bottom, reducing water visibility. There are even reports that they stress out wintering manatees, because they try to eat the algae off the big mammals.”

They are also a hardy species, able to breathe in low-oxygen environments and protected by armor. That armor, though, is also somewhat inflexible, which could lead one to believe they couldn’t move on land. “Thick armor is known to reduce flexibility and maneuverability in other fishes,” the journal article states.

But the pleco has other tricks up its, umm, fins. And tail. Welcome the weird world of reffling.

You can find former aquarium dwellers such as this plecos in the Los Angeles River. (Will Burns)

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