Body naked or almost naked; suctorial mouth disc present as in virtually all lori-cariids; two pairs of barbels present, maxillary and nasal; adipose fin present or absent; dorsal fin with a spine and 6 or 7 soft rays; dorsal fin spine lacking
locking mechanism (a locking mechanism is present in the related callichthyids and loricariids); anal fin with 4-6 rays; relatively short intestine; 34 vertebrae (17 + 17). Some members are able to live in torrential mountain streams, up to 3500 m, and climb the faces of waterfalls. Maximum length about 30 cm. One genus, Astroblepus, with up to 54 species (Schaefer, 2003b).
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