Barbopsis devecchii

Di Caporiacco 1926

Barbopsis devecchii
Redrawn by Rhian Kendall from Di Caporiacco (1926)


Eilichthys microphthalmus  Pellegrin 1929

Barbopsis stefaninii  Gianferrari 1930

Zaccarinia stefaninii  Gianferrari 1934 nomen nudum




Lectotype: MZUF 5496. Paralectotypes: MZUF 2609-17 and 5566-70 (14 specimens), MSNG 24.903, MSNM 8 (ex MSNM 4388). This species is the type species by original designation and monotypy of the cave restricted genus Barbopsis.


Distributed over a large area (the Wadi Nogal) in northern Somalia, details given in Table below (from Ercolini, Berti, Chelazzi, and Messana 1982) (c. 8oN, 48oE). These authors collected 94 animals from the well at Taleh despite the fact that none had been seen at this site since 1924 when the type specimens were collected. No specimens were obtained from Eil. There is a 395m difference in the altitudes of the lowest and highest sites. Messana, Chelazzi and Baccetti (1985) record that while most of the karstic system of Somalia is composed of small cavities there are exceptions and some large cavities exist (e.g. Manas and Taleh).


Locality Latitude Longitude Altitude (m)
Talèh * 09o10'N 48o22'10"E 609
Bug Der 08o36'N 48o46'30"E 340
Gibaganle 08o31'N 48o39'30"E 350
El Goddomei 08o32'10"N 48o45'E 314
Callis 08o23'15"N 45o05'09"E 277


Known collection sites for Barbopsis devecchii. * = type locality.


Very little known. The majority of the distribution area is in evaporite formations although at Eil there is marl and biogenic limestones (Merla, Abbate, Canuti, Sagri and Tacconi 1973). It is likely, though unproven, that the fishes inhabit an extensive series of relatively small fissures and tunnels. The species is capable of tolerating wide variations in salinity and hardness. Various aquatic troglobites (e.g. Caridina lanzana (Crustacea, Decapoda) (Holthuis 1980)) have been taken from the wells and probably form part of the diet of the fish. Matthes (1963) examined the feeding mechanism and diet of this species. He reported that the only specimen he had available had mostly fresh herbaceous material in its gut, as well as some filamentous algae, sand grains and small invertebrates. The animal appears to have a generally phytophagous diet (based on many aspects of its feeding morphology) which is perhaps surprising given its cavernicolous facies. It seems possible that it obtains much of its food supply from openings to the epigean zone while spending other times in hypogean regions.


The relationships of this species are not well understood. Banister (1984:934) suggested that it has no close relatives among epigean cyprinids of north-eastern Africa. Howes (1991) placed this species (together with Caecobarbus geertsii and Garra andruzzii) in the barbin lineage of the subfamily Cyprininae. Matthes (1963) studied the feeding mechanisms of several African cyprinids. His findings suggest that Barbopsis is derived from a primitive Barbus type. The teeth are unspecialised being of a very generalised type.

A detailed electrophoretic study allowed Sbordoni, DeMatthaeis, Mattoccia, Berti and Sbordoni (1996) to calculate Nei’s genetic distance (D) between this species and the other Somali hypogean cyprinid Garra andruzzii. Their value of D=0.7 falls within the range for species (0.004-3.000).

During this study samples from three of the six known sites for this species were examined and the electrophoretic data strongly suggest that gene flow between sites is restricted or absent. This has lead to pronounced genetic subdivisions between populations and significant heterozygosity.

All of the distinctive morphological features of this species are due to evolution underground (troglomorphy) and cannot be used to assess its relationships. It seems likely that the different degrees of troglomorphy exhibited by the Somali cyprinids is the result of different lengths of time isolated in caves.

Hayes and Armbruster (2017) studied the taxonomy and relationships of the Africa small barbs, a group to which B. devecchii belongs (with Caecobarbus geertsii) but an a complete absence of tissue samples for these two subterranean species meant that they were excluded from the analysis.

Conservation Status


(Getahun, A. 2010. Barbopsis devecchii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: Downloaded on 03 July 2017). VU D2 (IUCN, 1996, 2000).

However, in large areas of Somalia pumps are now being used to remove water from wells. If this is carried out over a long period without replenishment of ground water by rain the water table will inevitably fall. This could pose a serious threat to this species and the other two cave-dwelling species in this country, Garra andruzzii and Uegitglanis zammaranoi.

This species is found in Ecoregion 83 (Horn) of Thieme et al. (2005). This is a xeric area which is nationally important faunistically, with a conservation status of relatively stable and a priority class of 5 (Brown and Thieme 2005).

Museum Holdings

As above plus: five hundred and three specimens at the Instituto di Zoologia dell' Universita di Firenze, Centro di Studio per la Faunistica ed Ecologia Tropicali del Consiglio Nazionali delle Ricerche, Firenze (Ercolini, Berti, Chelazzi and Messana 198:231).

Key References

Gianferrari, L. Journal Article 1930 Un nuovo ciprinide Somalo (Barbopsis stefaninii Gianf.)
Pellegrin, J. Journal Article 1931 Les Cyprinides cavernicoles d'Afrique
Gianferrari, L. Journal Article 1937 Su la vescica natatoria di Uegitglanis zammaranoi Gian
Parenzan, P. Journal Article 1939 Pesci del acque sotterranee della Somalia
Poll, M. Journal Article 1961 Contribution a l'etude des poissons d'eau douce de Somalie appartenant aux genres Gobius et Barbopsis
Della Croce, N. Journal Article 1963 Ill spedizione del Prof. G. Scortecci in Somalia. Osservazioni su Barbopsis devecchii Di Caporiacco (Cyprinidae)
Matthes, H. Journal Article 1963 A comparative study of the feeding mechanisms of some African Cyprinidae (Pisces, Cypriniformes)
Ercolini, A. and Berti, R. Journal Article 1978 Morphology and response to light of Barbopsis devecchii Di Caporiacco (Cyprinidae) microphthalmic phreatic fish from Somalia
Delfino, G., Bianchi, S. and Ercolini, A. Journal Article 1981 On the olfactory epithelium in cyprinids: A comparison between hypogean and epigean species
Ercolini, A., Berti, R., Chelazzi, L. and Messana, G. Journal Article 1982 Researches on the phreatobitic fishes of Somalia: Acheivements and prospects
Leveque, C. and Daget, J. Book Section 1984 Barbopsis devecchii Di Caporiacco, 1926
Ercolini, A., Berti, R., Chelazzi, L. and Messana, G. Journal Article 1987 Oxygen consumption in hypogean and epigean cyprinids (Pisces)
Sbordoni, M. C., Dematthaeis, E., Mattoccia, M., Berti, R. and Sbordoni, V. Journal Article 1996 Genetic variability and differentiation of hypogean cyprinid fishes from Somalia
Thieme, M.L., Abell, R., Stiassny, M.L.J.,Skelton, P., Lehner, B., Teugels, G., Dinerstein, E., Kamdem-Toham, A., Burgess, B., and Olson, D. Book 2005 Freshwater ecoregions of Africa and Madagascar. A conservation assessment
Brown, A. and Thieme, M. Book Section 2005 Ecoregion 83. Horn
Berti, R and Messana, G Book Section 2010 Subterranean fishes of Africa