Certain fish are “holy grails”—attractive fish known from some preserved specimens and from a photo or two—that no aquarist has ever seen alive. In addition, very little is known about their natural history or aquarium care. After some time an expedition (usually German or Japanese) may rediscover the species, and it is finally brought into the hobby, and everyone goes nuts over it. Initially its price is very high, but if aquarists are able to get the fish to breed, the price typically drops after a year or two. The catfish Corydoras weitzmani is one such fish.
A Long Wait
This species was first discovered and collected by C. Kalinowski in 1949 (five specimens), but it wasn’t until 22 years later (1971) that it was described by Nijssen. Nijssen had only one new specimen, which he collected in 1969. Thus there are five paratypes, and the type locality is listed as the Vilcanota river system near Cusco in southern Peru.
The precise locality was not given—either local collectors forgot or didn’t want to reveal it. The original description noted that C. weitzmani resides at a relatively inaccessible elevation of 3350 meters (11,000 feet). Recently this information has come into question, as it frequently does with rare specimens whose locality collectors want to keep secret. (It has significance for the hobbyist, since fish from that elevation would prefer much cooler temperatures. The best information at present is that they come from lower elevations and enjoy normal aquarium temperatures.) The species was, of course, named to honor Dr. Stanley Weitzman, TFH senior consulting editor and Curator of the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
For a long time, cory lovers searched for this rare and desirable fish and tried to find its locality without any success. The half-million tourists that visited Cusco every year included many would-be collectors, even the likes of famed catfish expert Dr. David Sands, but none could find the fish. It was not until 2004 that the fish was seen alive. An expedition led by Shigezo Kamihata collected it and arranged its export to Japan in November 2004. There is a very strong interest in Corydoras catfish in Japan, and young specimens of this highly sought-after species that were only 2 cm (¾ inch) long sold for about $1000 apiece!