Like all catfish, this species can be easily identified by the whiskers, called barbels, located near its mouth which help the animal smell, taste, and find food in a muddy habitat. Armored catfish are named for two rows of overlapping bony plates that cover and protect their bodies. This armor is important because these fish cannot defend themselves by attacking and biting. Instead of conventional teeth, they have tiny sandpaper-like rasps that point inward and are used to grip their prey. Large pectoral and pelvic fins allow them to hug the ground while they forage for food. They promote ecosystem health by controlling invertebrate and algae populations.
Armored catfish live in large schools on the muddy bottoms of slow-moving streams and pools. This water is often low in oxygen content, so they have adapted to breathe air, gulping in breaths at the surface. Any extra air passes out of the anus—the equivalent of a fish fart. During severe drought, these fish can use their fins to move on land for short distances to find new pools.
Armored catfish are known for their bubble nests. Male catfish construct these nests out of vegetation and large air bubbles coated with saliva. Once built, the female deposits her eggs into it. The male then fertilizes and guards them until they hatch, 4 to 6 days later.
These freshwater fish are found in rivers and drainage basins throughout South America, including the Amazon, Orinoco, La Plata, and Guyana waters.
Primarily detritivores, armored catfish eat dead matter located at the bottom of rivers or streams. They also feed on insects, larvae, small fish, snails, algae, and other plant material. Using their large mouths to suck up insects, small fish, and algae, has earned them the apt common name, suckerfish.
Typically, 6–8 inches. In human care, their lifespan is estimated to be 5 to 8 years.