Air-breathing fish species discovered in the Amazon

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Dr. Donald Stewart chilling next to some arapaima fish. Wow, those are some meaty creatures.

I’ve never been to a jungle in my life (besides my room when it’s a mess), but I know there are tons of animal species who call the untamed lands and undisturbed waters their home. Well, deep in the Brazilian Amazon, Dr. Donald Stewart of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) discovered a brand new species of giant fish called arapaima – the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world! Why is it new? Because he said so!

The thing is, researchers back in the 1800s had already discovered 4 different arapaima fishes. Instead of separating them by species, however, they rolled the water animals under the same name: arapaima. It’s like how German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Chihuahuas are all considered the same species.

Well, it’s obvious there are huge differences between all the pooches, right? While Golden Retrievers have glowing, light hair, a German Shepherd’s fur tends to be darker. Additionally, while Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are large, Chihuahuas are relatively small. In short, canines can be distinguished by their physical features!

According to Stewart, the same can be said about arapaima fish. Sure, most are all roughly 10 feet long and weigh about 440 pounds. They all even need to surface every 20 minutes to get fresh air into their primitive lungs! Despite all these similarities, however, there are several features that make them different from each other. So, while dogs may not get a species makeover anytime soon, the arapaima fish is going to be separated out a bit.

“Everybody for 160 years had been saying there’s only one kind of arapaima. But we know now there are various species, including some not previously recognized,” said Stewart. “Each of these unstudied giant fishes needs conservation assessment.” For this reason, he decided to rename the previous fishes and consider his discovery a brand new species! It’s now called Arapaima leptosoma.

Stewart has a strong feeling there are more arapaima lurking around in the Amazonian waters, and he’s planning to hunt them down in the near future.

Images courtesy of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.