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Museum's Next Hook: Catfish Planet
The Exhibit Will Include a 22-Foot Walk-Through Catfish Model

Erik Hogstrom

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

March 31, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium's upcoming exhibit will give visitors a new view.

"You will be inside a catfish," said Jerry Enzler, the museum's executive director.

"Catfish Planet," opening Memorial Day weekend in the Norman Gallery, replaces last season's "Toadally Frogs" exhibit and will include a 22-foot-long walk-through catfish model.

"A door will enable visitors to enter into the body of the catfish," Enzler said.

Once inside, visitors will learn about the digestive, circulatory and other anatomical systems of the fish.

Although the museum has had hundreds of species of fish on display since it opened in 2003, the model provides a unique educational opportunity, according to Enzler.

"We have never really discussed in depth the anatomy of a fish," he said.

Officials plan to make Catfish Planet the museum's first traveling exhibit. At its conclusion in 2007, the exhibit will be made available to other aquariums throughout the country.

The exhibit features 21 tanks containing
more than 100 species, including a walking catfish.

"The walking catfish is native to southeast Asia and was introduced to the U.S. 30 years ago," said Lee Jackson, the museum's director of husbandry.

Since that introduction, the species has spread through southern Florida - one body of water to another.

"It walks from bodies of water that are drying up," Jackson said.

The fish uses rigid pectoral fins and a twisting motion of its body to transport itself across land.

The museum will receive a walking catfish from the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., as well as other varieties from other facilities and in-house collecting expeditions.

"It is our intention that our visitors will learn the vast diversity of forms and life history traits that make this group of fishes so important," Enzler said. "They are significant not just in the United States, but significant throughout the world."

Catfish account for 34 percent of all freshwater fish, with nearly 3,000 described species.

"It is indeed a planet of catfish," Enzler said.

In addition to the walking catfish, visitors can see electric catfish, glass catfish and a catfish that eats wood.

Exhibit visitors will begin at a station that describes the origins of catfish and what makes them different from other fish.

Other stations and interactive displays will describe catfish defense, feeding, reproduction, camouflage, habitat, senses, catfish and people, and conservation.

Catfish Planet also features information on how water pollution, deforestation and dams impact fish populations.