Apr 2003 TFH Column - The Amazon

Apr 2003 TFH Column - The Amazon

Sometime during my decade long stint as a computer programmer in Los Angeles, it just so happened that a business trip to Wisconsin coincided with the American Killifish Association national convention. This once a year killifest is the nexus for all things killi, or was in that pre-internet era; while it's importance has somewhat been mitigated by the online experience there is still no substitute for being in a room where 9 out of 10 killies known to man are happily swimming around, some breeding, in tiny aquaria staged solely for these 3 days in May.

The Editor of a rival periodical once mentioned to me people tended to be like the fish they keep and it just can't be said that for the most part killi folks are outgoing boisterous poeple. There are the odd (hi Jim) and sometimes really odd (hi Oleg) exceptions but for the most part the average AKA crowd act as though they'd feel safer hiding in some plants hoping to lure a mate just like their finned counterparts.

Although I'd been aware of and a member of the AKA for almost a decade I'd never attended any of the conventions and going to one is a bit of an eye opener. These people are serious hobbyists and if you're family thinks you're a bit odd because you won't shut up about these stupid little killifish and how can you know so many utterly useless trivialities about what came from collection point KM17 on the 1985 Dutch expedition then you've found you're group; they're all like that.

I have a memory of a gold Rolex watch flying around on the arm of a tall bearded men who seems to always be either smiling, grinning, or talking. Loudly. Other than the fish I came away with that weekend (whose pictures are all online) the memory of this guy was probably the strongest one there. He seemed somehow larger than life. He stood out in a crowd.

Fast forward about 6 years or so and the LA killi club was going on a field trip to the San Fransisco Bay Area; our host, that is, the idiot that somehow convinced his wife to allow a half dozen or so really strange fish poeple to camp out in his living room for a weekend was Dale Weber; Mr. gold Rolex from the Wisconsin convention. Dale and his wife were utterly charming and congenial hosts, and how could you not feel at home in a place with a brine shrimp hatchery on the kitchen counter next to Mr. Coffee?

This is all relevant because I never met anybody that so loved Brazil and the fish that come from there - to the point that Dale himself once predicted that if fish club politics didn't kill him then he'd probably die in the Brazilian jungle on a collecting expedition. This prophecy eerily came true in the early 90's - Dale was killed in a car accident at dusk. So the man that Rivulus weberi is named after is gone, and I tell my kids his ghost sill walks through the Brazilian jungle peeking into ponds, crouched down on hands and knees.

So Dale lives on, on the net. Stick his name inside a pair of double quotes and see what that finds you in a search engine. His smiling face is out there, and so are the words he wrote about fish from Brazil to Burlington, preserved for all time in a way prominent aquarists decades earlier never dreamed of.
The South American Annual study group has been around for as long as I can remember the web being there and it's nice to see names like Dr. Roger Brousseau on the masthead as one of the chairman. Roger was active in the Los Angeles killi club in the 10 years I lived there and always seemed to be heading out again to South America to find new collections of known killies and always looking for that new killi, as-yet unknown to science. Other names associated with this site I recognize too from years of "seeing them around" on the net although we've never actually met. If you're into South American Annual killies you probably already know of this site. If you don't and want to see what all the fuss is about, then this would be a good time to look. There seems to be a misconception about killies that they only eat live food, live about 4 months, and lay eggs that take a year to hatch. Nothing could be further from the truth! Well, sorta; noting could be further from the truth with other killies but this does describe South Annuals pretty well. To be fair they don't all take a year to hatch, some only take a few months but there are enough in the 9+ month category to make the point valid.

A popular idea is that South American annuals are "brown fish" causing fan and critic alike to refer to them as "dirt fish" but anybody who has seen a number of these species in good condition know otherwise. Sometimes rivalling marine fish in color (what killi article would be complete without that old chestnut?) and showing more grace than an freshwater angelfish this is perhaps one of the most interesting killi families around; it's certainly one of the most diverse - from half-inch brightly colored little jewels in the genus Campbellolebias to the monsters that look like bass crossed with Piranha in the genus Megalebias they show a diversity not found in many families of fish. Yeah, you heard that right, "bass" killies; utterly nondescript, huge, they eat about 10 times their own weight of their own kind each day.

Is it any wonder then that these fish are the least common even in killi-keeper circles? Or that special attention needs to be paid to make sure these things keep going? They're not like wild bivs where you can just throw them in a big tank with lots of plants and as long as there's light they're survive no matter what else you do, oh no, these guys require maintenance, both hourly feedings in the case of Megalabias and species maintenance in terms of the whole family, for these poor things keep popping in and out of existence both in the wild and in captivity. Luckily new collection points in the wild are found and species held to exist only in captivity have shown to not be, but the destruction of the habitats at the rate they are going will one day ensure than a time will come when some species really will only exists in captivity. Thus the primary focus of this group is species maintenance.

Even if you work with just one species you're helping preserve biodiversity. Oh, and these fish ain't cheap either. You might even make so much you'd break even keeping these things going!
This one is really a tease as there's only one link on this page in the Open Directory project that is at all relevant to Brazil; it's a link to some exporter of tropical fish. This in and of itself is not significant and maybe things are different today but when I was younger the supply chain of the fish industry always seemed a magical world of elusive nameless entities. You, as somebody paying for a bag of fish at a checkout counter could not be more further removed from where these things came from of how they got here. Yet clickity click, bang. An exporter, right there on your screen. Now, you'll probably never order from them, unless you wholesale these things to stores and know how to properly order, receive, hold, care for and sell a few boxes of fish you're not going to be successful; this isn't like ordering a half dozen fish from some guy off the Internet. None the less, I think it's cool to see.,13803,235041-235030,00.html
Discus: they're not just for breakfast anymore. TFH, the world leader in the depiction of flat fish gastronomy presents cooking corner: this is a recipe for a light Brazilian fish soup. If you look at the history of recipes, it's a safe assumption this recipe didn't just pop into being in the past 50 years and it's probably equally safe to assume it wasn't developed for Chilean sea bass or Salmon. I leave it to your imagination as to what varieties of Discus might have gone into this stuff as years have gone by.
The agency in Brazil that is responsible for environmental protection and natural resources is IBAMA. Effectively the "pet police" they have ultimate authority over what goes out of Brazil and stories from collectors about IBAMA are the stuff movies are made from. In 1992 they published a list of 177 species of fish that could be legally captured and exported from Brazil. Three species were added in 1994. In 1998 four species of freshwater stingrays have been approved for exportation, with a quota of 13,500 individuals for 1998. Prof. Ning Labbish Chao was assigned the task of revising this list for IBAMA and the page here represents his recommendation of 400 species that he considers safe for export out of the 2000 or so species of Brazilian fishes. Interestingly, the legality of fish movement is very similar to computer protocols - that is both ends have to agree. Brazil considered is safe to export Pygocentrus nattereri, the red bellied Paranha, but you find it a little difficult being legally allowed to receive one depending on where you live and how cold it gets at night there.
I swear no matter what topic our illustrious editor throws at us and says "this is the theme for this month" Vinny Kutty has written something about it. I'd rather not think how long I've known (but never met, such is the way the net works) Vinny, but it's longer than I've been a father, and I have teenage sons. Vinny has collected literally all over the world and while I still have not forgiven him for feeding wild caught blue gularis to his cichlids in Nigeria, he collecting exploits make a great read. Start with Brazil at the URL above then read the rest when you have time or even if you don't and have to make time for it. Vinny's latest passion seems to be Pike Cichlids. Lot of that going around (hi Jim) these days. Fad or fashion statement, I don't know, but I'm really uncomfortable with fish that thrive on a diet of wild Blue Gularis.
Re-use! Re-cycle! Hey, we're really green round these parts as in enviro-green. This is one of my favorite articles that ever appeared in the (1973) Killi Notes, which was what the AKA monthly publications was called back then, for it described something almost Bond-like in terms of cloak and daggerism to try to locate a fish long extinct in the hobby, apparently existing solely as a picture in the TFH looseleaf book. From the introduction of the article, this is what Antenor Leitao de Carvalho said in 1966:
"When and where did Simpsonichthys boitonei, known as the Brasilian Pira" first appear? At the new zoo being constructed at the new capital of Brazil, Brasilia, a zoo official named Saturnino Maciel de Carvalho was responsible for collecting live fishes to feed the aquatic birds of the zoo. During one of these collections in 1959, he noticed the beautiful appearance of five specimens of a fish. He brought these to the head of Zoological Services, Sr. Jose Boitone. Sr. Boitone, not being familiar with pisciculture, took it upon himself to send specimens to the renown scientist and ichthyologist, Dr. Antenor de Carvalho, in Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Carvalho described and classified this new species in 1959, giving it the name of Simpsonichthys boitonei. The species name was in honor of Sr. Boitone for having sent the specimens for classification."
I'm always amazed at how often new species are discovered like this. Nothobranchius furzeri, for example, was discovered one day when Richard Furzer had a slow day collecting birds and thought the pretty fish might be worth something in the pet trade. Any any rate if you go to the URL above you can find Allan Semeit's story about rediscovering this species that survives today in our tanks in no small way because of this very article and that one looseleaf page in TFH.
I'm running out of space so I'm going to wrap this up quickly; here's another writeup of a trip into the Brazilian amazon this time from the perspective of an aquatic plants hobbyist.
Project Piaba (Piaba is a regional generic name for ornamental fishes) - Center of Ornamental Fish Studies and Conservation From the Rio Negro to the world. Barcelos, Amazonas Brasil. Why can't everyone do this?
The Science Museum of Minnesota has one of the nicest introductions to Brazilian geography as you'll find online.
Eco-tourism and Brasil from the July/August Zoogoer magazine.
Lastly but not least, this is the only Brazilian fish club I can find online. If you want to talk to Brazilian hobbyists, start here.