Arapaima gigas, also known as pirarucu,is a species of arapaima native to the basin of the Amazon River. Once believed to be the sole species in the genus, it is among the largest freshwater fish. The species is an obligate air-breather and needs to come to the surface regularly to gulp air.
Arapaima gigas was originally regarded as the only species in the genus Arapaima , but the subsequent identification of further species, together with the rarity of specimens and the loss of several type specimens, has led to some uncertainty regarding classification within the genus and the identity of described individuals.
The species is among the largest known freshwater fish, commonly measuring 200 centimetres (79 in) and reportedly exceptionally reaching lengths of up to 450 centimetres (15 ft). Adults may weigh up to 200 kilograms or 440 pounds. A. gigas has a streamlined body with dorsal and anal fins set well back towards the tail. While the body is mainly gray to gray-green, its Brazilian local name "pirarucu" derives from an indigenous word for "red fish", thought to refer to either the red flecks on the scales towards the tail, or the reddish-orange color of its meat. The fish have "flexible armor-like scales" made up of "a hard mineralized outer layer" and "a tough-but-flexible inner layer" that help protect it from attacks by piranhas.
A. gigas is native to freshwater in the basin of the Amazon River; it is known to occur in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Peru.In Bolivia, the paiche is considered an invasive species, affecting local native species and the ecosystem. It was first found in 1976 and presumably introduced from Peru being washed out of a Peruvian fish farm by a flood. The species has been introduced to parts of East Asia, both for fishing purposes and accidentally.
A 13-million-old fossil of arapaima (or very similar species) has been found in Colombia, in the Villavieja Formation, which dates from the Miocene era.
A. gigas require breathing surface air to supplement the oxygen it derives from the use of its gills, and, as such, is dependent on surfacing every 5–15 minutes to loudly gulp air at the surface. As in other species in the genus, a modified swim bladder that contains lung-like tissue is used for this purpose.
The species primarily feeds on fish, although juveniles will prefer insects and fish larvae until fully grown. They will also consume birds, mammals, fruits and seeds on the water surface.
Spawning occurs in lakes and river channels during the time of low water levels (August to March). After the young hatch from eggs laid in a nest constructed by both parents, the male remains to protect them for a period of about three months. The young reach sexual maturity at an age of four to five years; average life span in captivity is 15–20 years.
The species has in the past been heavily impacted by overfishing, exacerbated by their easily exploited habit of surfacing regularly for air-gulping. The IUCN is currently not assigning a conservation status to A. gigas due to a lack of detailed information about population developments.Arapaima fishing was banned outright in Brazil from 1996 to 1999, due to declining populations; since then, both subsistence and commercial fishing have been permitted in specially designated areas, and a sophisticated sustainable management strategy has led to massive recovery of stocks, from 2,500 in 1999 to over 170,000 in 2017.
For Bolivia, the paiche as an invasive species is itself considered a threat to local native species according to reports. There are various reports on a correlation between the spreading of paiche and the decline in numbers of native fish species in parts of the Bolivian amazon. Effects on local fish species populations and on fishing behaviors vary strongly by region.A joint study of the Bolivian government and different research organizations from 2017 points out the necessity to further evaluate the complex environmental and socioeconomic impact of paiche in the country.
The Amazon River in South America is the largest river by discharge volume of water in the world, and the disputed second longest river in the world.
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The arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche is any large species of bonytongue in the genus Arapaima native to the Amazon and Essequibo basins of South America. Genus Arapaima is the type genus of the family Arapaimidae. They are among the world's largest freshwater fish, reaching as much as 3 m (9.8 ft). They are an important food fish. They have declined in the native range due to overfishing and habitat loss. In contrast, arapaima have been introduced to several tropical regions outside the native range, where they are sometimes considered invasive species. Its Portuguese name, pirarucu, derives from the Tupi language words pira and urucum, meaning "red fish".
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Hélder Lima de Queiroz is a Brazilian conservation biologist, primatologist, and fish behaviorist.
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