Colombia is in northwestern South America, with beautiful coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. People have lived in the area that is now Colombia since at least the year 12,000 BCE, and fish have likely been important to people in the area ever since. There are more than 2,000 marine fish species in Colombia, and the area also has the second-highest diversity of freshwater fish out of any country in the world. Here are some of the most spectacular fish found in Colombia.
Arapaima are among the world’s largest species of freshwater fish. They live in the basins of the Amazon and Esquibo Rivers in South America. Part of the Amazon flows through southern Colombia, meaning this fish is found there. However, they are declining in some of their natural habitats due to habitat loss and overfishing, as they are a popular fish to eat locally. They have also been introduced to other tropical areas where they can become invasive. This happened, for example, in Kerala, India. The arapaima was introduced for fish farming, but some fish escaped during floods in 2018, and they have been affecting the local ecosystem.
The arapaima can grow up to 9.8 feet long. They are silver with a reddish tinge. Perhaps that is why they were given the name pirarucu in Portuguese. The name comes from a combination of words in the local indigenous Tupí language: pira urucum, which means red fish.
These unique fish have one fantastic advantage — they can breathe the air. This helps them survive in oxygen-depleted waters where other fish would not be able to thrive.
Arapaima are important to humans for other reasons besides food. Locally, their tongues are used medicinally to cure cases of intestinal worms. Their scales are also used as nail files. Their uniquely beautiful skin is used to make clothes and upholster furniture.
2. Peacock Bass
While another name for the peacock bass is the Brazilian tucunaré, they are found outside of that country, in places including Colombia. They are another Amazon River freshwater fish in the Orinoco River basin and freshwater in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Due to their popularity as food fish, they have been brought to foreign countries for fish farming. In some cases, they escaped and were found in the natural environment. Luckily, in some of these cases, it seems they have not been able to thrive and have not become an invasive species. In other places, they have unfortunately caused damage to local ecosystems after being introduced.
Peacock bass is a fish genus that includes at least 15 species. The largest of these is the speckled peacock bass which can grow up to 3.3 feet long. While no species of the peacock bass have been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in terms of their risk of extinction, some species have minimal and specific ranges, meaning their population could easily be affected by human activities. They are a popular fish for food and sport fishing. People come from far and wide to countries and areas that have peacock bass to try to catch one. Some sport fishers practice catch and release with this species, though eating them is also common.
The peacock bass is a very predatory species. They will eat almost any fish that is smaller than them. This is why they are likely to become invasive when introduced elsewhere. They will eat native species that are smaller than them. They were accidentally introduced into one lake, river, and creek system in Panama after a flood. The fish affected the ecosystem by eating many of the local fish species that eat mosquitos. This caused local malaria rates to increase, showing how invasive species can harm humans.
There are several fish species with the name pacu, many of which are found in Colombia. What most of these fish have in common is that they have an underbite similar to a piranha, though they don’t have the pirana’s teeth. Commercially, the fish colossoma is called Pacu when it is sent to the U.S. for aquariums. Since at least eight species share this name, they vary by size. The largest, colossoma, can grow up to 3.6 feet long and weigh up to 97 pounds. It is also called the tambaquí. Others, like those in the genus metynis, grow to just seven inches long.
These freshwater fish come from the Amazon, Orinoco, São Francisco, and Rio de la Plata basins. Because they are so popular in aquariums, they have become a nuisance as an invasive species in many areas. People dump fish they no longer want into local water systems, not realizing they don’t belong there. Because of this, experts recommend the following options for getting rid of aquarium fish you no longer want:
- Kill them by chopping off their head and disposing of them like garbage.
- Eat them.
- Donate them to an aquarium, a school, or a local aquarium society.
- Return them to a fish store.
- Ask your veterinarian or local pet store for a humane disposal or donation method.
The bicuda is a fish found in the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins, including in parts of Colombia. This freshwater fish can grow up to 2.9 feet long and weighs up to 13 pounds. These swift predators stay near the surface in fast-moving waters to catch their preferred meals, which usually consist of other fish species. They use debris, logs, and rocks for hiding spots to scope out their prey. Their bodies are long, similar to the shape of a pike. They are greyish in color with a reddish tail.
5. Amazon Leaffish
The Amazon leaffish is found in the Amazon River basin in a few countries, like Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela. They are small fish that grow up to just 3.1 inches long. They eat invertebrates and other smaller fish. As their name suggests, they look similar to dead leaves floating in the water. This is an excellent camouflage strategy. It is not only their coloring that helps them to look like a leaf. They also swim in a unique position with their face pointed downwards to resemble a fallen leaf.
Due to their unique look, they are popular fish in aquariums. However, you must be careful about the other fish you put in there. If you put smaller fish in with an Amazon leaffish, it will probably eat all of them!
6. Redtail Catfish
The redtail catfish is another freshwater fish native to several South American countries, including Colombia. They can grow up to 6 feet long; however, finding a specimen that large is not so common. A more common size is between 3.5-4.5 feet long. The redtail catfish is important for game fishing. However, some local people do not eat them because their flesh is black in color.
The fish species has an air of mystery and has even been blamed for making a terrible boating accident worse. In 1981, a ferry called the Sobral Santos II sank in Brazil. Experts believe the accident was made worse by redtail catfish and other predatory species dragging people underwater, thinking they might be a good snack, causing them to drown.
7. Cardinal Tetra
These tiny fish are only about one inch long. Like many other species on this list, they are also freshwater fish of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins. They are brightly colored fish that are blue on top and red on the bottom. Because of their unique look, cardinal tetras are quite popular in aquariums. They eat tiny critters that are found on underwater roots and leaves such as midge larvae, water fleas, and other insect eggs. In the wild, they live for just one year, but in an aquarium, they can live for a few years.
Candiru also go by the names:
- Toothpick Fish
- Vampire Fish
The reason for these unique names is that it’s a parasitic species that feed on the blood of other animals, including humans, when given the opportunity. They also come with a nasty reputation. It is said they can swim up a human urethra and infect a host that way, though the evidence for this has never fully been proven. Their size makes this more likely to be a legend than a fact. They can grow 7-14 inches long, and even though their heads have a small diameter, most would be too large to fit up a male urethra.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Which country has the second-highest diversity of freshwater fish in the world?
Colombia has the second-highest diversity of freshwater fish in the world.
What are some fish species found in Colombia?
Peacock bass, bicuda, and pacu are a few fish species found in Colombia.
Does the candiru really swim up male urethras?
This is most likely a legend. The fish does feed on blood, including human blood when given the chance, but there have been no proven cases of one swimming up a human urethra. However, there have been documented cases of them swimming up a vaginal canal.
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