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Author:  Allan James 
Title:  The Crucifix Catfish
Summary:  The under skull structure of this sea catfish, Arius proops, resembles a crucifix or a painting of Christ crucified. The upper part of the skull roof looks like a monk or a Roman soldier. They are sold in South American port markets with religious symbols painted on them. Illustrated.

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Date first published: 2003
Publication:  Greenock & District Aquarist Club (Scotland), and
Reprinted from Aquarticles:
Oct. 2004: Ryedale Reporter, Ryedale Aquarist Society
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The Crucifix Catfish

by Allan James
First published in the newsletter of the Greenock and District Aquarist Society (Scotland), and

This is a brief look into how Arius proops, one of the many sea catfishes in this genus, received the common name of the "Crucifix Catfish."

a_proops.jpg (25607 bytes)
Arius proops

First of all we need to familiarise ourselves with the family and the genus concerned. Arius proops from the family Ariidae is as far as I know a synonym, and the correct scientific name for this fish is Hexanematichthys proops. I have still to find a source for the name change as I know that Hexanematichthys is a synonym of some Arius species and there is a few discrepancies as far as this genus is concerned. Ariidae is the only family that is found worldwide from the Australasian continent to the South American continent and they can be found in marine, brackish or freshwater. Our subject resides on the North Eastern tip of South America from Colombia round the coast to Venezuela and the Caribbean and down the Atlantic side of South America bordering Brazil, Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana. For our in-depth look at proops we will stick to the "old" name of Arius.

The scientific name of Arius is derived from the Greek word Apelos (pronounced Araios) which means "sanctified by the god of war", and refers to the bony structure extending from the skull covering to the powerful thorn of the first dorsal fin ray.

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The powerful thorn of the first dorsal fin ray

The underside of the skull covering has a bony structure which can be seen when all the flesh and soft parts are removed. It then looks like a crucifix or like a painting of Christ crucified, and is surrounded by a Weberian bone in form of a halo. The upper rough part of the skull roof which is also visible on the living fish, looks like a monk with a cowl and hood and his arms outstretched in prayer. Others see this as a Roman soldier with armour on his chest and the dorsal fin spine is the lance which he opened up Christ's side.

proops_head.jpg (30835 bytes)
The head

The Crucifix catfish was first reported in a travel report in 1789 and today you can see in the Market places in the ports of these South American countries with the bony structure laid out with Christian symbols painted on them.

The pictures depicted in this article are from Ann & Danny Blundell's trip to the Margarita Islands just off the North Coast of Venezuela and a popular destination for tourists from the United Kingdom. I am indebted to Danny who took these pictures and who is himself a very accomplished photographer, and Treasurer of the Catfish Study Group (U.K), along with Ann who carries out her duties as Secretary of the group.

These images are all the Copyright of D.Blundell except for the map of Venezuela:

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Island of Margarita off the coast of Venezuela

arius1.jpg (26986 bytes)
Specimen showing the bony structure, in the Museum on the Island of Margarita

arius2.jpg (21093 bytes)
The same specimen showing the full skeletal body

arius3.jpg (26948 bytes)
Showing the spiny first dorsal ray and vertebrae

Reference: Grzmeck's Animal Life Encyclopedia Volume 4 Fishes 1, 1963

ScotCat 2003