Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Freshwater stingray sighted in Lake Nahuel Huapi - or was it a catfish?

I have posted on the "cuero" myth of the Mapuche natives, which is a creature that resembles a stingray (see my posts here). I mentioned some reports of freshwater stingrays in the region (Northern Patagonia) as an explanation for the myth.

However there are no scientific records of freshwater stingrays in Patagonia.

Today I came across a newspaper report published in January 2014 in Bariloche 2000, which mentions a sighting of a ray in lake Nahuel Huapi

"The neighbor René Zuker said he saw a ray in the waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi, in Villa La Angostura. The fisherman shared a photograph with B2000... [see photo below]... 'I think that it it a freshwater stingray and not a manta ray' René stated after verifying the information on the Internet... he reported that he was on the pier at Bahia Mansa and spotted the animal at a depth of 6 meters approximately. 'At first sight I didn't notice it, then I saw that it moved and I took the photograph quickly' he said, and he explained that as he is a photography fan, he carries his camera with him wherever he goes.
[he] told us that it is not the first time that he sees an animal of this kind: 40 years ago, on the shore of the lake, meters from the Limay River
[the outlet of Lake Nahuel Huapi] he saw a ray which he described as follows: 'it was the size of my hand, almost just born, and it was being eaten by some bugs, and it drew my attention, it was half rotten".

Ray in Lake Nahuel Huapi. By Rene Zuker

There are no rays, but the lake, and Northern Patagonia is the home to one of the oldest catfish familiess, the Diplomystidae. Not many people know that these fish live in the lakes and rivers of Patagonia. Most are aware of trout, salmon and perch, but not these catfish, pictured below:

They live in Chile and Argentina in the same region where the "Cuero" myth appeared (is that a coincidence?) - see maps below

The map above shows Patagonia in green, the oval is the area where the Cuero myth was popular among the Mapuche natives. In Yellow is the area where you can find freshwater stingrays.

Below is the current distribution of velvet catfish:

Of course a ray and a catfish are different, yet, a fish 6 meters (18 feet) underwater will appear larger than it is due to the refraction of light at the water-air interface (roughly 1.33 times larger than it really is):

The fossil record tells us that catfish have been living in Patagonia since the Eocene, tens of millions of years ago. The Diplomystidae or "velvet catfish" are quite special: they are the basal clade of all catfish, they are the only catfish to have a maxilla (bony jaw) with teeth on it. Furthermore, they are only found in Chile and Argentina.

The only problem with trying to identify the Nahuel Huapi catfish (Diplomystes viedmensis - also known as Olivaichthys viedmensis) with a gigantic freswater stingray is the size. The catfish are barely 30 cm long (one foot). However catfish (sliuridae) can grow into giants: the Siluris glanis can measure 5 meters long (15 feet), and one catfish caught in the Mekong river (source and photo) weighed 646 lbs and measured 8.9 ft long (293 kg - 2.7 m).

Maybe there are some very big catfish in Lake Nahuel Huapi... or who knows, perhaps some yet to be discovered freshwater stingray.

For now all we have is a blurred photo of a dark fish in the lake's clear blue waters.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

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