The Air-Breathing Amazon Torpedo Fish

The arapaima is high on the bucket list of most anglers, and for good reason. Capable of reaching sizes up to 10 feet long and as much as 400 pounds, they put up a real fight. It’s size is not the only thing that makes an arapaima remarkable.

The arapaima can breathe air, which gives it a supreme advantage in it’s environment of secluded oxbow lakes deep in the Amazon. During the dry season, the oxygen levels in these lakes reach almost zero, making it the ultimate predator versus fish who are not as well adapted. In order to breathe, an arapaima surfaces every couple of minutes to take a breath of air. This makes it especially intriguing to anglers, who must wait quietly for an arapaima to surface and then cast frantically towards the spot where the fish rose. Hopefully, they are able to predict the direction the arapaima is headed in and present to it.

Oliver White and Indifly

Arapaima have suffered the usual gamut of fish problems, namely overfishing and habitat loss. They are an important food fish in their native regions, but groups like Indifly have been working at convincing the locals that the arapaima would be more valuable as a gamefish than they are as a food fish. Once caught, the arapaima must be held for at least 5 minutes until it takes a breath. It has a large blood vessel on it’s back that can sometimes rupture when held for pictures.

Interestingly, the arapaima is a mouthbrooder, meaning that the offspring are protected in the male’s mouth until they are mature enough to fend for themselves. The female protects the male and the young by fending off predators.

One of the big draws for fisherman to arapaima is the possibility of diversity. They are non-migratory fish and different populations are isolated in various lakes throughout the Amazon river basin. The separation between populations provides opportunity for extreme diversity and adaptation. Many scientists believe that there are probably many subspecies of arapaima waiting to be discovered deep within the Amazon rainforest.

Check out this guy who caught a gigantic arapaima, or a video of Jeremy Wade catching one on the fly.

Cover image by @rafael_costa_brfly


  • Moises says:

    Must we display these wonderful creatures Post Morton. I believe in possibly no more than two of these creatures for every sports fisherman. How awkward are our ways of thinking, it does not matter whom, what, where, when and whom authority. It is an over kill; we all should be conservationist. Save or planet especially anew the great Amazon region.

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