• Pirarucu: the Amazonian freshwater giant


    The Amazonian freshwater giant can measure up to 3 meters and weight up to 200 kilos. Photo: Namiradoleitor.com

    Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), also called Arapaima, is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. Typical of the Amazon region, the fish can measure up to 3 meters in length and 200 kilos in weight.

    The giant fish distinguishes from the other regional fish not only for its size but also for having two respiratory apparatus: gills, for under water breathing, and modified swim bladder, which works as lungs, for air breathing.

    His diet consists of fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and even small aquatic birds. The air-breather fish is known for leaping out of water and grabbing small birds.

    Because of its large size and cod-flavour meat, Pirarucu is considered a delicacy, and it is called by many as the cod of the Amazon. Due to the commercial fishing practiced during many years, the species is now endangered.

    As its natural reproduction is not enough to replace the population of the species, the Brazilian Government created in 2004 a Normative Fishing Policy to regulate the commercial fishing of Pirarucu.

    BBC Presenter Steve Backshall visits a Pirarucu farm in the Amazon.

    BBC Presenter Steve Backshall visits a Pirarucu farm in the Amazon. Click on the image to watch the video. Photo: BBC


    Indigenous mythology

    The origins of the name Pirarucu come from two indigenous (Tupi) words, “pira”, which means fish, and “urucum”, which means red, because of the colour of its tail. According to the indigenous mythology, Pirarucu was an Amazonian native warrior, whose heart was full of anger and perversity. For being a brave fighter, Pirarucu was an egoist man, excessively vain and full of himself, although he was son of a virtuous and kind father, head of the Uaiás tribe.

    Tupã, the indigenous God of the Gods, observed Pirarucu’s bad behaviour and was not pleased by his attitude towards his fellows. As a result, he decided to punish him. One day, Tupã demanded Polo, the thunder God, and Iururaruaçu, the storm Goddess, to provoke the strongest torrent rains over the Tocantins River, where Pirarucu and others were fishing.

    When Pirarucu saw the turbulent river waters and heard Tupã’s angry voice, he just ignored them with laughter and words of contempt. Tupã, infuriated, threw lightning and thunder over the region, filling up the sky with an endless glow. Pirarucu attempted to escape but was struck by a bolt of lightning in the heart. The body of the warrior, still alive, sank to the depths of the Tocantins River and was transformed into a giant, dark fish.

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