Barbopsis devecchii

Di Caporiacco 1926

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


Historical notes

During the spring of 1924 the Florentine professors G. Stefanini and N. Puccioni made several investigations in the northern part of Italian Somaliland. When they visited the village of Taleh they collected cyprinids living in the wells. They delivered these to Di Caporiacco who described them as a new genus and species. The specific name is after Cesare Maria De-Vecchi who was Govenor of Italian Somaliland at the time. The species was rediscovered a number of times and recieved two other names (Eilichthys microphthalmus and Barbopsis stefaninii) which are now synonyms (see above). The latter name was later transferred to another genus which has not since been recognised. (Historical notes from Berti and Messana 2010)


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. Andreoli (1981) provided details of the flora present in the waters inhabited by Barbopsis. These may provide a basis for the ecosystem.


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. In a thorough phylogenetic classification of the Cypriniformes Tan and Armbruster (2018) placed Barbopsis as incertae sedis within Cyprinidae as they were unable to determine the subfamily into which to place it.

Conservation Status

MG [DD:3.1:2010]

(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 Nuove osservazioni sui Cyprinidi di Callis (Somalia italiana)
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
Matthes, H. Journal Article 1963 A comparative study of the feeding mechanisms of some African Cyprinidae (Pisces, Cypriniformes)
Della Croce, N. Journal Article 1963 Ill spedizione del Prof. G. Scortecci in Somalia. Osservazioni su Barbopsis devecchii Di Caporiacco (Cyprinidae)
Bianchi, S. Journal Article 1975 Preliminary observations on the epidermis of Uegitglanis zammaranoi Gianferrari (Clariidae, Siluriformes)
Ercolini, A. and Berti, R. Journal Article 1978 Morphology and response to light of Barbopsis devecchii Di Caporiacco (Cyprinidae) microphthalmic phreatic fish from Somalia
Bianchi, S. Journal Article 1978 Indagine preliminare sulla topografia delle cellule neurosecerenti a secreto fuscinoparaldeide positivo nel S.N.C. di Uegitglanis zammaranoi Gianferrari, pesce freatico anoftalmo della Somalia
Bianchi, S. Journal Article 1978 La cellule mucose e l'istochimica dei mucopolisaccaridi nell' epitelio olfatttivo di Uegitglanis zammaranoi Gianferrari (Clariidae, Siluriformes), pesce freatico anogtalmo delle Somalia
Bianchi, S., Delfino, G. and Ercolini, A. Journal Article 1978 Morphology and fine structure of the olfactory organ in Uegitglanis zammaranoi Gianferrari (Clariidae, Siluriformes),anophthalmic phreatic fish from Somalia
Messana, G. Journal Article 1979 Groundwater research by the "Centro di studio par la faunistica ed ecologia tropicali" in Somalia
Delfino, G., Bianchi, S. and Ercolini, A. Journal Article 1981 On the olfactory epithelium in cyprinids: A comparison between hypogean and epigean species
Andreoli, C. Journal Article 1981 La flora algale presente in due particolari pozzi della Somalia meridionale
Jankowska, M. and Thines, G. Journal Article 1982 Etude comparative de la densite de groupes de poissons cavernicoles et epigee (Characidae, Cyprinidae, Clariidae)
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
Messana, G., Chelazzi, L. and Baccetti, N. Journal Article 1985 Biospeleology of Somalia: Mugdile and Showli Berdi caves
Messana, G. and Chelazzi, L. Journal Article 1986 The fauna of the subterranean waters of East Africa, and particularly of Somalia
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
Messana, G. Book Section 2001 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
Paglianti, A, Messana, G, Cianfanelli, A and Berti, R Journal Article 2006 Is the perception of their own odour effective in orienting the exploratory activity of cave fishes?
Berti, R. and Messana, G. Book Section 2010 Subterranean fishes of Africa
Laumanns, M. Journal Article 2017 Atlas of the Great caves and the karst of Africa. Volume 2. Malawi to Zimbabwe and general references