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What is an Arapaima?

The Arapaima is a freshwater fish of majestic proportions, native to the Amazon River. Known for its colossal size, it can grow up to 10 feet, making it one of the largest river-dwelling fish. With a fascinating ability to breathe air, the Arapaima is a true river giant with a prehistoric lineage. Curious about how it survives in the diverse Amazon ecosystem?
Alex Paul
Alex Paul

The arapaima is a large fish that lives in South America. It is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world and can grow to more than 6.6 feet (about 2 meters) in length. The fish mainly feeds on other small fish and animals. Arapaima fish are also sometimes known as paiche or pirarucu, depending on the location. The fish is part of a group known as the “living fossils” — animals or fish that appear to be the same as species found in fossils.

The size of the arapaima fish makes them a constant target for fishermen as they are a common food fish. For this reason, the largest arapaima fish are no longer regularly found in the wild. It is thought that although large examples of the species regularly reach 6.6 feet (about 2 meters) the species is capable of growing to much larger sizes. It is commonly said that if the fish weren't hunted, there would be specimens that could reach close to 15 feet (about 4.5 meters).

The arapaima is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world.
The arapaima is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world.

Arapaima fish mainly live off other fish, although they also eat small animals and crustaceans. It is an air breathing fish, which is an evolutionary advantage the species has developed to cope with regions of the Amazon river that don’t have high concentrations of oxygen. The fish spends a lot of time in shallow water.

The Amazon River regularly floods, which can have a large impact on the reproductive cycle of the fish. Usually the fish will lay eggs during the first few months of the year when the river is at a low point. The eggs are put into nests that are around 2 feet (half a meter) wide. The eggs hatch when the water begins to rise.

Arapaimas feed on crustaceans.
Arapaimas feed on crustaceans.

The meat of the arapaima is considered to be a delicacy in many regions of South America. This led to it being hunted close to extinction. There are a number of ways the fish is caught, including big nets or harpooning. Due to the size, catching individual fish is the only viable option for most fishermen.

As the fish is close to extinction in many regions, it is no longer a legal target for fisherman in most of Brazil. There are still some small regions where the fish is allowed to be caught, but only to be put back into the river or for consumption by the people who caught it. There are, however, farms for the fish which supply fish steaks to service the demand.

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Discussion Comments

Ruggercat68

I wonder what the largest arapaima ever caught looked like? They must be like American carp or Russian sturgeon. Not the most attractive fish in the water, but they can get huge because no other fish wants to mess with them. I'd like to know if it's possible to keep an arapaima in an aquarium for display. If they're an endangered species, though, I doubt anyone would be allowed to transport them out of South America.

Buster29

You couldn't pay me enough to swim in the Amazon river, especially after reading this article about those huge arapaima living in it. I've seen a TV show where a fisherman has caught one of those fish, and that was enough for me. I wouldn't mind tasting the flesh of an arapima in a South American restaurant some time, but the rest of the time I'd only want to see an arapaima in pictures.

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    • The arapaima is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world.
      By: Konstantin
      The arapaima is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world.
    • Arapaimas feed on crustaceans.
      By: tdoes
      Arapaimas feed on crustaceans.
    • It is illegal to hunt arapaima with nets, harpoons or any other fishing tool.
      By: B. Wylezich
      It is illegal to hunt arapaima with nets, harpoons or any other fishing tool.
    • Arapaima are native to South America and its swampy Amazon River basin.
      By: alelina
      Arapaima are native to South America and its swampy Amazon River basin.