The decomposing body of a dead Amazon “river monster” recently washed ashore Florida, raising concerns about whether this gigantic predatory fish has joined the Sunshine State’s ever-growing list of invasive species, according to news sources.
But although it could thrive in the warm waters of Florida, this fish, known as arapaima (Arapaima gigas) – a sizable creature that can grow to be 10 feet (3 meters) long and up to 440 pounds. (200 kilograms), according to a 2019 study in the journal Plus one – The odds are stacked against you, at least for now, said Solomon David, an aquatic ecologist at Nicholls State University in Louisiana who was not involved in the recent arapaima sighting.
This is because these fish have some very unique quirks: They breed only in specific areas, spend valuable time and energy caring for their young, and don’t reach sexual maturity until they are about 5 feet (1.5 m) long and at least 3 to 5 years old, David told Live Science. Also, it would take a lot of people to have a sustainable population in Florida and only one dead arapaima has been found so far.
In this case, the arapaima was probably an exotic pet in a person’s private aquarium that got too big for their tank and illegally released in the wild or died in captivity and was thrown into the river, David said. “We don’t even know if this thing was alive when it was thrown, if it was thrown there,” David told Live Science.
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The arapaima remains were found in Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park, on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico in western Florida. the Sun Sentinel of South Florida reported in early March. The normally greenish fish, which sports a reddish tail, had already turned white from decomposition, photos show. But even though it wasn’t 10 feet long, it was definitely an arapaima, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Sun Sentinel.
This fish, also known as pirarucu or paiche, used to be abundant in parts of the Amazon RiverBut the species is now threatened in many places throughout its native habitat, David said. The arapaima is part of the group of bony tongues, a large number of heavy bodied tropical river fish whose tongues are studded with teeth and whose bodies are covered in large mosaic-shaped scales that are hard, like armor. according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. These scales are so tough, even piranhas I can’t bite them, but that’s just luck, as the arapaima evolved long before piranhas existed, David said.
The arapaima is prized for its meat, and not just in rural regions along the river, where relatively boneless fish meat, once salted, can be stored without refrigeration. according to Miami Patch. In fact, Whole Foods Market sold commercially grown arapaima, the supermarket chain said in a 2016 blog post. But wild arapaimas are largely threatened by overfishing, and it doesn’t help that the species, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, is relatively easy to spot. It is a mandatory air respirator, which means you have to rise to the surface of the water every 5 to 15 minutes to inhale air, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology.
Arapaimas developed this breathing tactic because the Amazon has low oxygen levels. (Warm water contains less oxygen than cold water.) Arapaimas don’t have lungs but rather special tissue in their swim bladders that processes oxygen, Lesley de Souza, a conservationist who specializes in neotropical fish at the Field Museum in Chicago, he told mongabay.com.
Related: Image Gallery: Invasive Species
Unlike many fish that never meet their young, arapaimas are loving parents. During the Amazon rainy season, generally from December to May, the river overflows into the neighboring floodplains. It is there, in the flooded plains, where arapaimas dig shallow nests where females can lay eggs for males to fertilize. Both parents protect the nest from predators and continue to care for the young once the eggs hatch just nine days later, according to a 2017 study in the journal. Plus one.
Both parents release a dairy substance from their heads, known as “arapaima milk,” which is fed to the offspring, according to the study. Also, dads are devoted caregivers.
“The male provides intensive parental care that can last up to three months, guiding the offspring above his darkened head to areas rich in zooplankton to feed on,” according to the 2017 study. The female tends to swim around the male and the hatchlings at a distance (not clear why, but perhaps to search for predators or food) and usually leaves their “family” after about a month, after which they may breed with other males. according to the study.
Parental care is a key reason arapaimas likely won’t take over Florida waters, as young arapaimas “aren’t very tough fish when they’re young,” David said. But if these fish reach adulthood, they can live for at least 15 to 20 years, according to the 2019 PLOS One study.
Of course, although the odds are against this fish in Florida, the arapaima could overcome these obstacles; perhaps they could find nesting areas off the coast of Florida, raise their young, wait until they are big and old enough to breed, and then repeat the cycle. , establishing a viable population. If that happened, these voracious eaters would likely take a toll on populations of both invasive and native fish and small invertebrate species that live nearby, David said. However, these fish are so large and take so long to mature that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could probably track and remove them, he noted.
“We should be vigilant, there is nothing wrong with being vigilant,” David said. “But again, going from fish to fear is not the best way to learn about these fish,” he added, noting all the negative media coverage these fish are getting.
Some outlets, including CBS and even the fishing magazine “Field and stream“He called the Amazonian fish” ugly. “
“As someone who’s kind of a champion of the ‘ugly’ fish, I think we need to get away from that,” David said. “I think they are really cool and amazing looking fish. Just look at those red scales.”
Originally posted on Live Science.