Northern Iberian spined-loach (Cobitis calderoni)

Northern Iberian spined-loach resting on bottom
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Northern Iberian spined-loach fact file

Northern Iberian spined-loach description

GenusCobitis (1)

The Northern Iberian spined-loach is a small, bottom-dwelling member of the loach family with an elongated, cylindrical body, covered with indistinct round scales and marked with rows of black spots, which are largest towards the underside. The base of the tail is very long and narrow, and the dorsal fin is located towards the rear of the body. The mouth is situated below the head, and is surrounded by three pairs of fleshy barbels, and, as in many loaches, the Northern Iberian spined-loach has a split, erectile spine below the eye, used in defence against predators (2) (3) (4). Male and female Northern Iberian spined-loaches are similar in appearance (2) (3).

Also known as
lamprehuela, Verdemã do Norte.
Length: up to 8.2 cm (2)

Northern Iberian spined-loach biology

Relatively little is known about the biology of the Northern Iberian spined-loach. A rather short-lived fish (8), it feeds mainly on aquatic invertebrates, including fly larvae and tiny crustaceans, as well as on unicellular algae (9).

Spawning occurs in spring, between March and May (2) (3) (10), the female selecting a gravel bottom with strong currents, and using the tail fin to dig a trench into which around 200 large eggs are deposited (2) (3). The Northern Iberian spined-loach is reported to form distinct pairs during breeding, and to live for up to three years (8).


Northern Iberian spined-loach range

The Northern Iberian spined-loach is one of three endemic Iberian loaches, and is restricted to the Duero, Ebro and Tajo river basins of northern Spain and Portugal (1) (2) (3) (5) (6).


Northern Iberian spined-loach habitat

This loach inhabits the upper and middle reaches of rivers, where dissolved oxygen levels are higher, and prefers to live in clear, shallow water with a gravel or stony bottom (1) (2) (3) (6). Records of the Northern Iberian spined-loach’s occurrence in reservoirs need confirmation (7).


Northern Iberian spined-loach status

The Northern Iberian spined-loach is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Northern Iberian spined-loach threats

The Northern Iberian spined-loach has declined in abundance and range in recent decades, and has now disappeared from parts of the Duero and Ebro rivers, with remaining populations also becoming more fragmented. The main threats to the species include gravel and water extraction, water pollution, dam construction, the destruction of spawning areas, and the introduction of exotic fish such as pike (Esox lucius), which may act as predators, competitors, or vectors of disease (1) (2) (3) (6) (7).

The decline in the Northern Iberian spined-loach population is predicted to continue at the current rate, putting the species at ever-increasing risk of extinction (1).


Northern Iberian spined-loach conservation

The Northern Iberian spined-loach is listed as Vulnerable in the Spanish Red Book (3) and as Endangered in the Portuguese Red Book (7). It is also listed on Annex III of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) (11).

No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the conservation of the Northern Iberian spined-loach (3), but recommended actions include effectively controlling non-native fish introductions, controlling gravel extraction, protecting the areas of river in which this small loach lives, undertaking further research into its distribution, biology and ecology, and seeking to minimise the impacts of water extraction and pollution on the aquatic ecosystem (2) (3) (7).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Find out more about the Northern Iberian spined-loach:



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Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Fleshy projections near the mouth of some aquatic vertebrates.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
Dorsal fin
The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
The production or depositing of large quantities of eggs in water.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
  2. Perdices, A. and Doadrio, I. (1997) Threatened fishes of the world: Cobitis calderoni Bacescu, 1961 (Cobitidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 50: 148.
  3. Doadrio, I. (2001) Atlas y Libro Rojo de los Peces Continentales de España. Dirección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid. Available at:
  4. Campbell, A. and Dawes, J. (2004) Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Leunda, P.M., Miranda, R. and Oscoz, J. (2007) Occurrence and conservation of the threatened endemic cobitid, Cobitis calderoni, in the Erro River (Ebro Basin, Spain). Cybium, 31: 13-18.
  6. Elvira, B. (1995) Conservation status of endemic freshwater fish in Spain. Biological Conservation, 72(2): 129-136.
  7. Cabral, M.J., Almeida, J., Almeida, P.R., Dellinger, T., Ferrand de Almeida, N., Oliveira, M.E., Palmeirim, J.M., Queiroz, A.L., Rogado, L. and Santos-Reis, M. (2005) Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. Instituto de Conservação da Naturaleza e da Biodiversidade, Lisbon. Available at:
  8. FishBase (November, 2009)
  9. Valladolid, M. and Przybylski, M. (2003) Feeding ecology of Cobitis paludica and Cobitis calderoni in Central Spain. Folia Biologica (Krakow), 51: 135-141.
  10. Valladolid, M. and Przybylski, M. (2008) Life history traits of the endangered Iberian loach Cobitis calderoni in the River Lozoya, Central Spain. Folia Zoologica, 57: 147-154.
  11. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (November, 2009)

Image credit

Northern Iberian spined-loach resting on bottom  
Northern Iberian spined-loach resting on bottom

© Roger Tidman /

NHPA/Photoshot Holdings Ltd
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