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Holy Catfish!

The world-famous Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe or Not, once said “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Every so often, gemologists encounter a gemstone that is stranger than fiction. How about a pair of earrings with pearls from a catfish?

Front of Skeleton Back of Skeleton Shake Rattle and Roll

There is a species of catfish called a sail catfish.1 That is common to the warm Florida Gulf waters. Not only do fisherman catch them but often one will encounter a skeleton half buried in a white sandy beach. What does this fish have that will make a gemologist take a second glance?

Well, it has pearls.

Hold the skeleton of the fish in your hand and it will reveal most incredible crucifixion. Yes, there is a cross with a Jesus hung on it! To add even more jolts to the observer, the hilt of the sword that was plunged into Jesus’ side is also clearly discernable. The observe side is a Roman shield. Shake this beach find and you will hear something rattling. There are two tilly bones2 that are called catfish pearls by the Tampa Bay locals and are credited to represent the dice used to gamble by the Roman soldiers for Jesus’ garments. It is realistic enough likeness to make an atheist gulp!

You Know You are a Rockhound When …

Catfish Pearls

Local rock and shell collectors take the pearls and make jewelry with them. Additionally, in the Tarpon Springs3 tourist stores one can find these crucifix fish back bones with pearls for a reasonable price, including a printed legend. Florida postcards also abound with the legend and photos of the fish’s carcass.

Catfish Postcard

Although the pearls are not worthy of a fine jewelry store’s inventory, nevertheless, a less common variety of fish pearls are found as fossils in Florida. They have a tan to black color. Imagine telling someone that your earrings have one million old catfish pearls!

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Hoefer

1. Also called Crucifix fish or Gafftop Catfish of the genus Arius.    Back to Text ↑ ↑ ↑
2. Also called ballast bones. Not really pearls as gemologists would define pearls.    Back to Text ↑ ↑ ↑
3. Tarpon Springs, Florida in the Tampa Bay area.    Back to Text ↑ ↑ ↑

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