V. sanguinea are parasitic fish with backwards oriented spines on their opercula, or gill flaps, that facilitate attaching themselves onto prey items to feed; however, they lack the dorsal and pectoral fin spines characteristic of other catfish (Baskin et al., 1980). They grow to approximately 8.4 cm (standard length for males), though some reports of 15 cm have been documented (Piper, 2007). They are drab-colored and translucent with minor dorsal pigmentation, enabling camouflage in murky waters and the substrate. V. sanguinea also possess small, flattened heads with short sensory barbels and shiny bellies that engorge when filled with blood (Eigenmann, 1917).
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