Prietella phreatophila

Carranza 1954




The specific name was misspelled phreaticola by Vandel (1964, 1965).


México, USA


Holotype: A female 54.6mm (SL/TL?). This specimen was reported to have been kept in the collection of Carranza and its present location (if still extant) is unknown. Paratypes: Sixty‑five specimens 33.5mm ‑ 54.7mm (SL/TL ?). Of these the whereabouts of only the following are known for sure: UMMZ 173788 (3 specimens, 35-45mm SL), UMMZ 223109 (5 specimens, 34-52mm SL), SU 48047 (3 specimens), TU 10810 (3 specimens, ex-Carranza collection), TU osteo 178, USNM 164169 (3 specimens). It was reported (Carranza, 1954:132) that each of the following institutions was sent three paratypes: BMNH, MNHN, IPN. Nineteen were retained alive in aquaria at the time of publication, 26 in the collection of Carranza, and 2 in the collection of C. Bolivar. The present location of these 47 (if still extant) is unknown. This species is the type species by original designation and monotypy of the cave‑restricted genus Prietella.


Type locality: a dug‑out well called Pozo El Potrero de Dona Mariana, Municipio de Musquiz, Coahuila, Mexico (27o10'N 101o05'W).  Specimens of this species have now been collected from the Sotano de Amezcua (29o20’N, 101o30W) 200 km from the type locality (Sprouse, 1993; Elliott, 1994), and other sites (see Hendrickson, Krejca and Rodriguez Martinez 2001 for details). Ongoing research (Dean Hendrickson pers. comm.) will probably result in more locations being discovered. In 2016 fishes very like P. phreatophila were discovered in Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas. Dean Hendrickson is convinced that they are the same species.


The type locality is “an artificially enlarged natural well fed by a deep crevice” (Reddell 1981:245). Hendrickson, Krejca and Rodriguez Martinez (2001) reports that the habitat of this species vary from deep ephemeral streams to perennial flows. All known habitats are subject to massive flooding.  In Sotano de Amezcua the animals have been collected from a sump pool which is probably not the real habitat.


Taylor (1955, 1969) suggested that Prietella phreatophila is the sister group of the large and extensive genus Noturus. This was supported by Lundberg (1982) after a thorough anatomical study of many ictalurids. Further support was gathered by Amemiya, Kelsch, Hendricks and Gold (1986) who determined the karyotype of a single specimen. It has 2n=50 with a diploid are number of 80. This is not very distinct from a Noturus karyotype although  it was suggested that the presence of a single NOR (as opposed to multiple NORs in Noturus) may represent the ancestral condition for the Ictaluridae. Miller and Smith (1986:477) suggest that this species is of Oligocene or more recent origin.  The closest living relative is currently the hypogean Prietella lundbergi, though this is over 600km away.

Detailed studies the four North and Central American troglobitic ictalurids Satan eurystomus, Trogloglanis pattersoni, Prietella phreatophila and P. lundbergi  by Arce et al. (2017) suggest that they form a monophyletic group with fifteen synapomorphies: 1. Absence of eyes, 2. depigmentation, 3. Fifth vertebra, 4. Lateral line extent, 5. Mesethmoid cornua, 6. Anterior cranial fontanel, 7. Descending wing of frontal, 8. Supraoccipital posterior process, 9. Pterotic wings, 10. Parasphenoid and orbitosphenoid, 11. Abductor arcus palatine scars, 12. Anterior ceratohyal-ventral hypohyal joint, 13. Dorsal hypohyal, 14. Upper hypurals, 15. Transcapular ligament ossification. It would be highly valuable to compare these anatomical synapomorphies with those from molecular markers. This group of four is the sister group to all other ictalurids in the analysis and they presumably share a last common ancestor which lived in the northern Mexico area.

Conservation Status

MuG [EN A1ace+2ce, B1+2bc:2.3:1996]

EN A1ace+2ce,B1+2bc:2.3:1996. (Contreras-Balderas, S. & Almada-Villela, P. 1996. Prietella phreatophila. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1996: Downloaded on 07 July 2017).

E (Miller, 1977), I (IUCN, 1988), R (IUCN, 1990), E (IUCN, 1993), 2000). E1,5 (Williams, Johnson, Hendrickson, Balderas-Balderas, Williams., Navarro-Mendoza, McAllister and Deacon, 1989). E (United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1994a,1994b), E (Contreras-Balderas, Almada-Villela, Lozano-Vilano and Garcia-Ramirez, 2003).

Museum Holdings

As above plus: USNM 164169, UMMZ 187684, and 173788, TNHC 12100, TCWC 5144-1 (karyotype slide preparation). Probably several specimens at the Instituto Mexicano de Recursos Naturales Renovables, Mexico (Taylor, 1969). More recent collections (including live animals) at Texas Natural History Collection, Texas Memorial Museum.

Internet Resources

Powerpoint presentation on the genus Prietella - very significant source of information (downloads as a pdf, check your downloads folder)

Genbank sequences

Genbank accession no. Gene
AY458884.1 my cytb
HM991671.1 rag2
AY458868.1 mt 12S, mt 16s ribosomal


Key References

Taylor, W. R. Thesis 1955 A revision of the genus Noturus Rafinesque with a contribution to the classification of the North American catfishes
Taylor, W. R. Journal Article 1969 A revision of the catfish genus Noturus Rafinesque, with an analysis of higher groups in the Ictaluridae
Amemiya, C.T., Kelsch, S.W., Hendricks, F.S. and Gold, J.R. Journal Article 1986 The karyoptype of the Mexican blindcat, Prietalla phreatophila Carranza (Ictaluridae)
Elliott, W.R. Journal Article 1994 Sotano de Amezcua
Hendrickson, D.A. Journal Article 1995 Miscellaneous notes on biogeography and biology of Mexican blind catfish of the genus Prietella
Walsh, S. J. and Gilbert, C. R. Journal Article 1995 New species of troglobitic catfish of the genus Prietella (Siluriformes, Ictaluridae) from Northeastern Mexico
Hendrickson, D.A. Journal Article 1996 Notes on biogeography, ecology and behaviour of Mexican blind catfish, genus Prietella (Ictaulridae)
Hendrickson, D.A. and Krejca, J. Journal Article 1997 Notes on biogeography, ecology and behaviour of Mexcan blind catfish, genus Prietella (Ictaluridae)
Hendrickson, D.A. and Krecja, J. Journal Article 1998 Blindcats of the genus Prietella (Ictualuridae) of northeastern Mexico: an overview of recent explorations and studies
Garcia de Leon, F.J., Hendrickson, D.A. and Hillis, D.M. Journal Article 1998 Molecular phylogeny of Ictaluridae with emphasis on the Mexican blindcats, genus Prietella
Hendrickson, D.A., Krejca, J. and Rodriguez Martinez, J.M. Journal Article 1998 Blind catfish (Prietella: Ictaluridae) phylogenies and troglobitic invertebrates as indicators of international (Mexico-USA) subterranean aquatic interconnections, and as tools for environmental risk assessment
Krejca, J., Hendrickson, D.A. and Taylor, S.J. Journal Article 2000 Using stygobites to follow groundwater in Texas and Mexico
Hendrickson, D.A. and Krejca, J. Book Section 2000 Subterranean freshwater diversity in northeastern Mexico and Texas
Hendrickson, D.A., Krejca, J. and Rodriguez Martinez, J.M. Journal Article 2001 Mexican blindcats genus Prietella (Siluriformes: Ictaluridae): An overview of recent explorations
Contreras-Balderas, S, Almada-Villela, P, Lozano-Vilano, M de L and Garcia-Ramirez, ME Journal Article 2003 Freshwater fish at risk or extinct in Mexico
Krejca, J. Journal Article 2003 The Mexican blindcat (Prietella phreatophila): Research and exploration in the groundwater
Sneegas, G.W. and Hendrickson, D.A. Journal Article 2003 Extreme catfishes
Hardman, M. Journal Article 2004 The phylogenetic relationships among Noturus catfishes (Siluriformes: Ictaluridae) as inferred from mitochondrial gene cytochrome b and nuclear recombination activating gene 2.
Wilcox, T.P., Garcia de Leon, F.J., Hendrickson, D.A. and Hillis, D.M. Journal Article 2004 Convergence among cave catfishes: long-branch attraction and a Bayesian relative rates test
Sullivan, JP, Lundberg, J. G. and Hardman, M Journal Article 2006 A phylogenetic analysis of the major groups of catfishes (Teleostei: Siluriformes) using rag1 and rag2 nuclear gene sequences
Dahdul, W.M., Lundberg, J.G., Midford, P.E., Balhoff, J.P., Lapp, H., Vision, T.J., Haendel, M.A., Westerfield, M. and Mabee, P.M. Journal Article 2010 The Teleost anatomy ontology: Anatomocal representation for the genomics age
Egge, J.J.D. Book Section 2010 Systematics if ictalurid catfishes: a review of the evidence
Palacios-Vargas, J.G., Juberthie, C. and Reddell, J. Book 2014-2015 Encyclopaedia Biospeologica Mexico
Yuhas, A. Web Page 2016 Eyeless catfish discovered in Texas cave may have come from Mexico
Hendrickson, D.A., Johnson, J., Sprouse, P.S., Howard, S., Garrett, G.P. Krejca, J.K., Gluesenkamp, W., Paulín, J.A.D., Dugan, L., Cohen, A.E., Espriú, A.H., Sullivan, J.P., Fenol, D.B., Karges, J., Smith, R., García De León, F.J., Wolaver, B. and Reddell Conference Paper 2016 Discovery of the Mexican Blindcat, Prietella phreatophila in the U.S and an update on its rangewide conservation status
Coleman, W.T., Hutchins, B.T. and Schwartz, B.F. Conference Paper 2016 Dynamics of detectability: Insights from high-frequency sampling at a stygobiont hot-spot, Edwards Aquifer, Texas
Hutchins, B.T., Engel, A.S., Nowlin, W.H. and Schwartz, B.F. Conference Paper 2016 Biodiversity, stability, and trophic complexity in the Edwards Aquifer, United States: The influence of chemolithoautotrophy on stygobiont community structure
Hutchins, B.T. Conference Paper 2016 Conservation status of stygobionts in Texas, United States.
Sinatra, C.S. Web Page 2016 Rare, blind catfish never before found in U.S. discovered in Texas
Hendrickson, D.A., Hernández‐ Espriú, A., Dugan, L., Sprouse, P., Dávila Paulín, J.A., Krejca, J., Gluesenkamp, A., Reddell, J., Smith, R., Howard, S., Johnson, J., Garrett, G.P., Cohen, A.E., García De León, F.J., Wolaver, B.P. and Fenolio, D.B. Conference Paper 2017 Discovery of endangered Mexican Blindcat, Prietella phreatophila , in Texas: Implications for international groundwater management and evolution of the regional karst aquifer biota
Arce, M., Lundberg, J.G. and O'Leary, M.A. Journal Article 2017 Phylogeny of the North American catfish Family Ictaluridae (Teleostei: Siluriformes) combining morphology, genes and fossils
Lundberg, J.G., Hendrickson, D.A., Luckenbill, K.R. and Arce, M. Journal Article 2017 Satan's skeleton revealed: a tomographic and comparative osteology of Satan eurystomus, the subterranean Widemouth Blindcat (Siluriformes, Ictaluridae)
Lyons, K.M. Thesis 2019 Exploring the distribution of groundwater salamanders and catfish with environmental DNA
Niemiller, M.L., Taylor, S.J., Slay, M.E. and Hobbs, H.H. III Book Section 2019 Biodiversity in the United States and Canada
Burr, B.M., Warren, M.L. and Bennett, M.G. Book Section 2020 Ictaluridae: North American catfishes
Warren, M.L. and Burr, B.M. Book 2020 Freshwater fishes of North America. Volume 2 Characidae to Poeciliidae