Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 179, Issue 8, pp 1011-1023

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Inside the guts of wood-eating catfishes: can they digest wood?

  • Donovan P. GermanAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of FloridaDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Email author 


To better understand the structure and function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of wood-eating catfishes, the gross morphology, length, and microvilli surface area (MVSA) of the intestines of wild-caught Panaque nocturnus, P. cf. nigrolineatus “Marañon”, and Hypostomus pyrineusi were measured, and contrasted against these same metrics of a closely related detritivore, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus. All four species had anatomically unspecialized intestines with no kinks, valves, or ceca of any kind. The wood-eating catfishes had body size-corrected intestinal lengths that were 35% shorter than the detritivore. The MVSA of all four species decreased distally in the intestine, indicating that nutrient absorption preferentially takes place in the proximal and mid-intestine, consistent with digestive enzyme activity and luminal carbohydrate profiles for these same species. Wild-caught Pt. disjunctivus, and P. nigrolineatus obtained via the aquarium trade, poorly digested wood cellulose (<33% digestibility) in laboratory feeding trials, lost weight when consuming wood, and passed stained wood through their digestive tracts in less than 4 h. Furthermore, no selective retention of small particles was observed in either species in any region of the gut. Collectively, these results corroborate digestive enzyme activity profiles and gastrointestinal fermentation levels in the fishes’ GI tracts, suggesting that the wood-eating catfishes are not true xylivores such as beavers and termites, but rather, are detritivores like so many other fishes from the family Loricariidae.


Digestion Xylivory Nutrition