What The Heck is the Tandanus Tropicanus?

Jun 20, 2014

WVU Professor Stuart Welsh holds something very new to the eyes of the aquatic life research community.
Credit West Virginia University

It’s called the Tandanus Tropicanus. It’s a fish, a very interesting type of catfish-, discovered in a northeastern part of Australia that’s largely been ignored by aquatic life researchers. WVU Professor Stuart Welsh made the discovery on an expedition in that part of the world back in 2010, and again in 2012. And yes, you can call it a fishing expedition.

"I think it’s a very interesting experience to describe a new species, and a very rewarding experience. Biodiversity is one thing that a lot of people are interested in," said Welsh.

"What animals are out there, and what do they do, and where are they located. When you find a new species, it makes you realize there’s a lot of things going out there in the world that you may not be aware of. There’s quite a few out there to be found, and to be named."

The Tandanus Tropicanus is a freshwater eel-tailed catfish with some interesting characteristics, when you compare it to a West Virginia Channel Catfish. It can grow up to about 20 inches or so, which is a bit smaller than a West Virginia Channel Cat. But its physical appearance is also different.

"The back end of this catfish is very different from a channel cat fish in West Virginia," said Welsh.

That means this Australian catfish can swim faster in the water. This fish was discovered in the Tully River, and that’s located in the Northeastern part of Australia, near the Great Barrier Reef. Welsh says it’s very rare to find a freshwater fish that hasn’t been discovered, but he expects that area of the world might yield even more findings.

"One of the really fun things about science is the discovery of new things. Sometimes these new things are useful in the medical fields; they are useful for a lot of different reasons. It’s important to go out and find these things. People have been studying rivers and oceans for a long time, but there are still new things to be found. It’s really fascinating," Welsh said.

When he was a young boy growing up in Beckley, Welsh went fishing any chance he got. He says that’s what started his love for fish, and it still inspires him.

"I spent a lot of time in creeks, flipping rocks looking for crayfish. That interest just continued and became an occupation for me," he said.

The newly discovered fish is now being studied in a museum. Welsh says he plans to go back to Australia very soon. He says there are possibly more fish out there still to be discovered.