For a long time, Micracanthicus vandragti was only known from a few single individuals imported as bycatch with various species of Loricariidae exported from Colombia. In DATZ 4/2000, it was presented with the number L280 by André Werner. Since then, it has become somewhat of a holy grail for many Pleco enthusiasts worldwide.
Name: Micracanthicus vandragti (Lujan & Armbruster, 2011)
Trade names: L280
Origin: Rio Orinoco, Ventuari, Venezuela.
Maximum size: 5 cm / 2’’
In 2011, it was given its scientific description by Lujan & Armbruster. The description was based on individuals collected together with Leporacanthicus sp., and the Micracanthicus were initially thought to be juveniles of these. Laboratory investigation proved otherwise, and instead it was confirmed that we were dealing with adults of one of the smallest known species of Loricariidae. Adults measure about 5 cm TL. Lujan et.al. have since moved the species to the genus Hypancistrus , which seems doubtful for many reasons.
M.vandragti is found at several locations in Rio Ventuari and where this river meets the main Orinoco channel. This area is frequently visited by ornamental fishermen, and several popular types of L-number Catfish are found here. M.vandragti shares habitat with these, yet it’s almost never collected. The reason for this has been unclear, but it has been thought to be because of their diminutive size. Fishermen may see them as juveniles of other species like Hypancistrus sp. L201 and Leporacanthicus sp. L240, too small to gain interest from the trade.
After having worked meticulously with Hernando Gil (Colombia Aquarium) to make M.vandragti available in the hobby, we now have a positive result. During the last year, the species has finally started to show up on the market in decent numbers both in Europe and in the US. It has already been bred in captivity, and is proving to be a hardy, meat-eating species which is fairly straight-forward when it comes to breeding. Males can be recognized by their wider heads and strong odontodal growth, and well-conditioned females have wider bellies when viewed from above. The colouration is variable, and there are specimens almost covered in white dots as well as those with almost no dots at all.
M.vandragti is a very exciting newcomer on the Catfish scene, suitable even for small aquariums. Finally we can enjoy this species in the hobby, so let's hope it’s here to stay!