FAQ: The Fishes in Lonely Loricariidae
Presented as part of Enduring Amazon: Life and Afterlife in the Rainforest, David Brooks’s living sculpture Lonely Loricariidae focuses on the evolutionary splendor of the Amazonian Basin and the complex, interdependent relationship between science and commerce.
The sculptural installation features living armored catfish from the Amazon, each representing a distinct, undescribed, “new to science” species that remains so mysterious, it lacks a scientific name.
Here’s some answers to some frequently asked questions about our fishes, how they’re cared for, and where they’ll head after their stay at the Momentary.
Why are the fishes* at the Momentary?
Our fishes are bizarrely beautiful and rarely seen. They’re so special, they don’t even have names yet! Artist David Brooks and explorer and biologist Dr. Nathan Lujan will travel to the Amazon to find out more about our fishy friends as they work to uncover more of the secrets of Amazonian rivers.
Two of the species in Lonely Loricariidae will be taxonomically described (That’s a fancy way to say “scientifically classified” or “officially categorized”) during the run of the exhibition. The fishes are visiting the Momentary to show off their never-before-seen style, and to fish for compliments, of course.
* Fun Fact from Artist David Brooks: “Note that ‘fish’ is both the singular and plural of a single type of fish, whereas fishes is the correct plural word for multiple types of fishes, such as are exhibited in Lonely Loricariidae.” The more you know.
How did the fishes get to the Momentary?
The fishes you see in Lonely Loricariidae were caught by people living and working near tropical rivers across South America, mainly Indigenous and local communities.
Our fishy friends weren’t caught specifically for this project, though. They were part of the usual exports for the global aquarium trade, bought up by wholesalers and sent worldwide. No one was hired to go fish-hunting just for Lonely Loricariidae. (Whew!)
What goes into keeping the fishes alive and healthy?
Our local fish keeper (Yes, it’s a real job. Be jealous.) makes sure the water quality is up to standard for our aquatic friends. He tests for pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels, makes sure the temperature of the water is nice and comfy, and ensures the water is flowing. These things keep the tanks clean and keep our fishes swimmingly happy.
What types of fish are in Lonely Loricariidae?
All the fishes are in the family of suckermouth armored catfishes, known scientifically as Loricariidae. The family is made up of about 1,000 described species, but there’s likely another 1,000 species in the family that are unknown to science, including the species at the Momentary. The fishes have mouths that are specialized for scraping surfaces, dense, bony armor that covers their bodies, and lots of small teeth, known as odontodes.
Fun fact: Some of the fishes in Lonely Loricariidae can climb waterfalls with their suckermouths and tiny teeth!
What do the fishes like to snack on?
Some of the fishes will eat anything, but some of our fishes have a craving for wood! All the tanks in our exhibit feature wood. The fishes can gnaw on the driftwood to satisfy their cravings and get the right amount of fiber in their diets.
Are the fishes bothered by all the sounds in Enduring Amazon?
Nope! What we humans sometimes find stressful may not necessarily be stressful for the catfishes. The fishes evolved in murky, muddy habitats with fast-moving water and plenty of predators and competitors. They’re used to all the noise of the Amazon rainforest, and they’re quite comfortable in their habitats at the Momentary.
Their tanks may look bare, with just some wood and sand, but a tank filled with grass and plants would kill the fishes because they aren’t used to that environment.
What happens to the fishes when the Momentary is closed to the public?
Our fishes are NOT scared of the dark! In fact, they prefer it. Our fish keeper turns off the lights for 12 hours every night. The fishes feel safe in the dark, and they need their beauty sleep! The fishes like to take “micro naps,” and will sometimes take up to 20 naps an hour.
So, if you see them catching some Zs, it’s not you. It’s them.
How long do the fishes live?
The fishes you see in Lonely Loricariidae typically live to about 7-years-old in the wild, but some of the fishes can live to be as old as 30 when they’re kept in captivity.
Most loricariids are excellent parents. Some species make their nests in wood, rocks, or firm clay and they lay their eggs there. The fertilized eggs are guarded by the father. Once they hatch, the baby loricariids are left to figure things out on their own in the big, wide world.
How long will the fishes be at the Momentary?
The fishes have been in our care since October. They will officially complete their stay at the Momentary in April. You can say hi to them if you stop by the exhibition, which runs November 18, 2023, to April 14, 2024.
Where will the fishes travel next?
Our fintastic fishes will go live in Tennessee after their stay in Arkansas. The fishes will call the Nashville Zoo home, where they’ll be further studied. They’ll become part of a permanent exhibit which focuses on Amazonian organisms that are beautiful but very difficult to observe in nature.