New species of giant Amazonian fish reported

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Posted October 15, 2013
A new species of the giant fish arapaima has been discovered from the central Amazon in Brazil, raising questions about what other species remain to be discovered and highlighting the potential for ecological problems when animals are relocated from their native habitats.
New species of giant Amazonian fish reported
These arapaima, which were photographed in a public aquarium in the Ukraine, appear to be the new species recently described by Dr. Donald Stewart of SUNY-ESF. They clearly show the elongated sensory cavity as a dark bar on the lower side of the head, a feature that is known only for A. leptosoma. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“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. Each of these unstudied giant fishes needs conservation assessment,” said Dr. Donald Stewart of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), who made the discovery.

The discovery was reported in a paper Stewart published this month in the journalCopeia.

For two centuries, arapaima have been among the most important commercial fishes in freshwaters of the Amazon. “Arapaima have high economic, cultural and scientific value, but their diversity has been overlooked for too long,” Stewart said.

Four species of arapaima were recognized in the mid-1800s, but in 1868, Albert Gunther, a scientist at the British Museum of Natural History, published an opinion that those were all one species, Arapaima gigas. Over time, Gunther’s view became the prevailing wisdom.

“Until this year, no taxonomist has questioned Gunther’s opinion about these iconic fishes,” Stewart wrote.

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