Catfish named after Museum scientist

19 March 2008

Natural History Museum scientist, Ralf Britz, has had a new species of catfish named after him.

Called Eutropiichthys britzi, the fish comes from Myanmar in Southeast Asia and was described for the first time in December 2007.

The honour was given to Ralf because of his research into fishes from Myanmar over many years, including 7 new fish species that he identified and described last year.

'It is always very special if you have a species named after you,' says Ralf, 'because it indicates your colleagues' appreciation of your work'.


Catfish are a diverse group of fishes with almost 3100 species worldwide. They usually have prominent barbels near their mouths that look like cat whiskers, giving them their name. These are used to taste and feel their environment.

Catfish can vary in size from the wels catfish that reaches up to 5m in length, to the spiny dwarf catfishes (Scoloplacidae) that barely reach 20mm.

Britzi catfish

Scientists Carl Ferraris and Richard Vari studied schilbid catfish specimens collected over previous years, some collected by Ralf himself in Myanmar in 2003, and some collected as early as 1891 by Oates and housed at the Natural History Museum.

The new catfish was previously thought to be another species called Eutropiichthys vacha. But after detailed analysis, E.vacha, was found to be four separate species, one of which had not been named. So the scientists decided to call it Eutropiichthys britzi after Ralf Britz.

Analysing catfish

The number and length of fin-rays and the head lengths of fish samples were analysed in detail by taking measurements and using radiographs (photos taken by exposing film to X-rays that penetrate the body of the fish and make the skeleton visible).

The scientists also detected differences in the structure of the narial flap, a flap of skin that separates the two openings of the nasal organ.

These characteristics distinguished Eutropiichthys britzi from other catfish. The detailed report was then sent to a scientific journal where other experts review the manuscript and after agreement, they accept and publish and the newly-named species.

This is actually the second species named after Ralf Britz. The first one was the smallest freshwater fish from the African continent, Barboides britzi, a carp relative of only 13mm length, described in 2006.