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With over 50 species of armored catfish, almost all live in the streams of South America. These are small fish with the largest less than one foot long and they are members of the mailed catfish family known as Callichthyidae. The armored catfish are remarkable for two reasons. One is their bony armor and the other is their method of fertilization which is used in most of the species. Armored catfish have often been known to travel over land for considerable distances, pulling themselves along with the strong spines on the breast or pectoral fins and using intestinal respiration. They have a supplementary breathing system in which air is swallowed and the oxygen from that air is taken up by a network of fine capillary blood vessels in the wall of the intestines. One species is known to aquarians as the talking catfish due to the grunting sounds it makes both in and out of the water. These sounds are caused by movement of the spines in the pectoral fins, amplified by the gas filled swim bladder that acts as a resonator.
Armored catfish live in small groups in slow moving streams, but rarely in standing water. They feed on small animals such as water fleas and small pieces of carrion. They are mostly active at twilight when they root around the bottom looking for worms and insect larvae. One member of the species, the Loricariid catfish, live in swift flowing streams and has thick lips forming a sucker like mouth with which they cling to stones and water plants. This allows the Loricariid catfish to maintain positions against a strong current but while doing so they also feed by scraping small algae from the stones surface with their spoon shaped teeth.
Very little is known about the breeding habits of the armored catfish since even in captivity none have been seen breeding. There is speculation concerning two different methods of breeding that may be used. Some observers believe that the male grips the barbels of the female with his strong pectoral fins fertilizing the eggs as they are extruded. The second method is described as one in which the female ingest the males spawn to fertilize the eggs. During courtship the male will nudge the female with his snout, then the two break off and swim to a nearby stone, cleaning the stone with their mouths. The nudging and cleaning alternate until both fish are in a highly excited state which leads to their pairing. The female will deposit as many as 250 eggs on the cleaned surface of the stone where they adhere. The young hatch in 5 to 8 days.
Nothing is known of the predators of this fish but it is presumed they fall prey to the usual predatory fish and water birds in spite of the fact that the armored catfish is known as the touch me not fish. This fish, like other catfish, has no scales. Instead it has a row of bony plates along each side of the body. Each of these plates has thorn like spines and all the fins are armed with spines. A special feature of this fish is the large size of the pectoral fins. Each one is relatively long and strongly constructed, armed with strongly toothed spines.