The rainforest dome is getting a thorough cleaning this week, and while the exhibit is closed temporarily, staff are jumping at the opportunity to do a variety of maintenance projects in the exhibit, including annual physicals for the seven redtail catfish who live in the large Flooded Amazon tank.
These fish require a more thorough examination than their tankmates because they have a propensity to investigate and sometimes eat foreign objects that occasionally fall into the tank. So, a team of eight aquarium staff members (including a veterinarian, animal health staff, divers in the tank, and other catfish wranglers) assembled on Tuesday morning to weigh each catfish and examine their stomach contents for any problematic objects.
In preparation, the fish spend a few minutes in a holding tank, where they can absorb an anesthetic called MS222 through their gills. Then, it’s all hands on deck to administer the exam and weigh the fish as quickly and smoothly as possible.
In the left-hand photo below, aquarium staff weigh catfish number seven, who is just 19 pounds (our largest tips the scale at 63 pounds!). In the center, animal health biologist Alison Rusch prepares to reach in and check catfish number two’s stomach, wrapping her arm above the glove with plastic and duct tape in an effort to prevent scratches from the fish’s teeth. And on the right are the results from last year’s exams: a pair of glasses and a toy dinosaur were recovered from one of the catfish’s stomachs, before they could become lodged in its intestine. Fortunately, this year nothing was found in any of the fish.
Watch for the redtail catfish’s distinctive red tail and whiskers on your next visit to the rainforest, and keep an extra tight grip on your sunglasses while inside!