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Amazonia June/July 2012

Logging barge on the Amazon through the spray of a Rapido.

Collection codes for Rivulus - AM 2012 - ( Addis - McAlear 2012 ).

All photographs on this page taken on a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20

Trying to distill everything that happened over 5 weeks of collecting & sorting out over 900 photos would make a long article so I just put here a flavour of the trip.
I wanted to go to Colombia for a few years but always something got in the way which was usually money or scared of plunging into a totally different culture not knowing what to expect or how to deal with it.
Steve McAlear was going over to his lodge in the rainforest in June & I was determined to go not really expecting what the trip involved.
This was to be a commercial fish collecting trip to fill a jungle fish house with fish for export. My killie collecting was something to do as & when time permitted. This piece is biased to collecting Rivulus. It would be outside the space available here to put photos on of all the fish we collected.
We travelled from Birmingham to Frankfurt, changing for a direct flight to Bogota, Colombia where we overnighted at a local hotel. Bogota is supposed to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world but I didn't see any problems in the short time we were there. In the morning it was a return to the Airport & an internal 2 hour flight on LAN to Leticia our final destination. I had to pay the equivilant of £8 tourist tax on arrival. Just something you have to pay to get out of the airport.
Steve's rainforest lodge is called Albergue Tacana & is set about 15 kms outside the airport & main town. Most tourists stay in the main air conditioned hotel in town & 'do Amazonia'. The lodge is part of a Bora Indian community & locals pop in all the time.
If you really want to taste life in the rainforest you should really try a holiday at Steve's place. You can collect your own fish & they can arrange a legitimate freight transfer of your fish box/es. We spent about 4 weeks going from one official to another & paying out here & there to get the export licence so you can get your fish home. You may of course need to check your countries import regulations regarding your own imports.
First morning we were out fishing in a Rio Tacana tributary not far from the lodge. We were collecting commercial fish such as hatchets, pencils etc. We collected Farlowella, a few Corydoras & a catfish not seen here before Physopyxis lyra Cope 1871. This one was a cause for some excitement but we only collected around 10 fish during our stay including some young. All were collected in the same spot near a sunken branch.
We caught no Rivulus at this location but went downstream along a particularly difficult stream walk through sunken wood & branches & collected a few Rivulus with little colour. Coral snakes have been seen previously around the village & wood is where they can hide so for a first trip doing this sort of thing I was a little nervous. Coral snakes are back fanged so have to get a good grip on you to be a problem. My motto is to give every snake respect & a wide berth.
We have had imports from this location before which were called Tacana drainage which is a fair description.
The usual way a day went was to be up about an hour before dawn & get on the bike as the sun was coming up. It's fatal to collect later as it gets hotter & the fish die. Collecting on the Amazon main river especially longer distances can be really difficult in water changing & aeration keeping fish alive to get back to the fish house. Sometimes you collect in shallow areas where the water is literally hot & you cannot change water until you get to deeper water.

Owl Moth seen on a trail. The photo on the left is what you see from the top. The photo on the left is the underside. You can see why they call it an Owl Moth.


The area surrounding the village of Tacana was used to cultivate Coca which is made into cocaine. When I was there all these areas had gone & the dams they built to hold water had been destroyed leaving in some cases nice pools to fish.
To explain the bike thing - most travel in Leticia is done on bikes. A trail bike in fish collecting is a bonus. You sit on the back with collecting bins, nets & have to go through rough terrain in some cases to get to a biotope.
The day before we came back one of the local Indians killed a 20' Anaconda near an area we used for fishing. Can you believe he strangled it with a rope before someone cut it's head off. Anaconda are feared in the local communities as they have been known to take children while bathing near the river.

I caught these 2 on rod & line. Big teeth but good to eat so they went into the pot. They were fishing themselves at the time with fish jumping out of the water to get away from them. Pink Dolphins were also in the area fishing. Probably these fish were getting in on the act.
In this area large stingrays were caught previously.

Piranha caught by Fred who is taking no chances of getting bit.


We flew from Birmingham to Frankfurt & changed planes for Bogota. We had to stay overnight in an hotel before getting an internal flight to Leticia. The photo shows the padlocked gate entrance to the hotel.

The Fish House
When fish were caught they were put into the quarantine shed before entering the main fish house.
During the stay I helped Pedro, a local Indian reroof the fish house with leaves. These were made up into panels by the local Indians & fixed to poles on the roof. In the full sun this was extremely sweaty work.
The photo below shows a fire burning off the old roof & leaves around the fish house. I think Indians get a bad press about deforestation. This is mainly done by big companies. Native people clear small areas around a house or village to make a safe area where they can see snakes. The fire produces smoke which clears the area of mosquito's. It does work.
It was not a normal fish house to work in as it was wise to check the place over for snakes & various spiders which could put you on your back if bitten. Basically always look where your fingers are. Ants are all around. The big ones are almost 1" but are harmless. The ones to avoid are the tiny ones which can give a mean bite.

Quarantine Shed

The fish house. Home to our collections over the collecting period.

Fish house roof being stripped off.

New leaves added.

Finished reroofed side.

Burning the old roof.

The following locations are just those where we collected Rivulus. Please note the genus has changed to Anablepsoides. We collected from a lot of biotopes for commercial shipping & it's not possible to list them all here.

Location 1 - AM 2012/1
Situated in the Tacana village.
Fairly shallow biotope up to chest height with some scrambling over fallen trees. The drag net was pulled over the sandy bottom which had leaves & debris. The scoop net was used under the overhanging grasses.
The Rivulus were collected some distance downstream. It was difficult to walk down the stream as it had a lot of tangled wood on the stream bottom. We only collected a few fish but all were taken by some animal in the fish house. We lost a few fish in this way until we went out & bought some sealed containers.

This is Physopyxis lyra Cope 1871. Not collected in this location before. It was only found in the little bay top left of the photo to the left. We only colected about 10 fish & 2 young. A small fish about 3 cm.
We caught Pencils, Hatchets & a load of other fish at this location.

The bridge

Downstream from the bridge

A little further downstream from the bridge where it became difficult to fish.

Steve & Pedro collecting a few Rivulus in a side boggy area.

Male Rivulus rubrolineatus from location 1.

Female Rivulus rubrolineatus from location 1.

Location 2 - AM 2012/2
Stream draining into the Tacana River, Tacana. Wide stream with a fair flow. Lots of sunken wood so we caught Farlowella & a Tatia.

Collecting a Tatia sp. from a wood crevice. Note the crab pulling the other end.

Location 3 - Tanimboca Reserve - AM 2012/3
The reserve is situated at km 11 near Tacana. It is currently expanding the number of accomodation buildings. It's a great place to explore along the trails with many places to fish. We had permission from the manager - Goran to fish the reserve & we would like to thank him for this.
You can see more on the reserve here including booking information.

We visited Goran late one afternoon. This involved about half a mile trek along a trail to his house in the jungle. On returning the sun had gone down & we had to get back in pitch blackness helped with a mobile phone. It's a really scary thing to do but the jungle does come alive at night & people pay for these night walks. I'm glad I did it but at the time I wanted Scotty to beam me up..

Male Riv.rubrolineatus from location 3.

ale Riv.rubrolineatus from location 3.

Location 4 - AM 2012/4
Tributary of the Tacana River.

Rivulus collected at location 4 (possibly Riv.rubrolineatus).

Location 5 - ('Fred's Stream') just outside Leticia. AM 2015/5
Deepish stream becoming shallow. We caught Rivulus about where Steve is fishing & also in a drying out pool just outside the main stream. Not a great many fish collected but the Rivulus were worth collecting. The females disappeared in the fish house despite a tight fitting lid which was a bit of a mystery. We didn't bring the males back. Definately worth recollecting. Hopefully the lads over there will try again & ship some over.

Male Rivulus rubrolineatus collected at location 5.


Ancistrus form

Location 6 - AM 2012/6
Quistacocha Zoo, Iquitos. We had no net so we had to improvise. A visit to a friend known as Mad Mick was useful & we looted a fan cover. Taking out the centre we had some netting given to us & Steve did a great job sewing it onto the frame. It worked remarkably well & we caught quite a few Rivulus & a Hoplosternum juevenile in the lake side.

Collecting spot for the Rivulus we caught.

Water Lilies which flower white were likely spots to fish but we couldn't find Rivulus under the pads.

Rivulus collected here. Top fish is Riv.rubrolineatus. The bottom one was dark brown with bright spots. Possibly another rubrolineatus but different.
We had hoped to find Riv.speciosus but time was against us. Also we were not fully equipped to go further around the lake to fish. A machette was something we badly needed along with wading gear.

The heath robinson net we made up on the day. Don't laugh - it worked well.

Location 7 - AM 2012/7
One of the quests for the trip was to relocate Alan's Red Rivulus. We did this after about a mile of tramping through mud & crossing a stick bridge as well as jumping a fast flowing strem. Eventually we found a boggy area with little water & a trickle of water passing through it. We went to the location 2 times. The first we found only 5 fish which were very small. The 2nd time we were determined to make a decent collection & spent about 2 hours in fairly deep mud at times. We adopted a different approach to finding them by walking through an area to muddy the water up then just standing still over it. Before long young Rivulus came to the surface & were collected. These were very small, in many cases less than 1 cm but we did collect enough to take back & grow on in the UK.
We still have no idea what the fish are. They are too small to be the usually found Riv.rubrolineatus. Hopefully as they grow I can update the page with photos.

The first obstacle. A stick bridge over a 2 metre gorge across the trail.

Steve searching for the elusive Rivulus.

A stick walkway across the bog. One slip & it was two feet of mud.

Young Rivulus from Location 7. These were the largest collected & of the Riv.rubrolineatus form.

Small tree frog near the biotope which had a lot of tadpoles. This area is home to some of the most poisonous frogs on the continent.

Riv rubrolineatus form. We only collected 2 males. As all the fish were very
small it was not possible to know how they would turn out.

The Red Rivulus. Totally different shape to the fish on the left & they so far have stayed small, being sexually mature at 15mm.

Location 8 - AM 2012/8
Another trek through the jungle that started by crossing the Tacana River over a fallen tree (photo on right below). This was a bit scary carrying nets & collecting bin. Also, wet muddy wellies are not the best to try it.
This was a dark location & the fish were darker. We caught quite a few knife fish at this location.

On the right of the bridge a wide pool. Typically pencils, hatchets, Apistogramma were found as well as quite a lot of knife fish, some very dark Crenuchus spilurus. No Rivulus this side of the bridge.

On the left of the bridge (upstream) we found Rivulus in small numbers but quite large fish. This was an area of dense foliage. Also collected a crab here.

Rivulus rubrolineatus collected at location 8.

Knife Fish collected at this location.

Location 9 - AM 2012/9
Stream flowing under the road past km 11. We caught all the Rivulus in a narrow, shallow stream with a gentle flow. No other fish collected. These were the most colourful population of Riv.rubrolineatus we caught.
The photo below was taken on the road looking into the forest. The water in the foreground was too deep for Rivulus & they were all collected in the plants going into the dark area. This was a slow flowing stream only a couple of inches deep.

Male Riv.rubrolineatus from location 9

Female Riv.rubrolineatus from location 9

Iquitos is a Peruvian town situated some 900 kms upstream from Leticia & is home to various fish exporters who buy in fish from local collectors. It's an exciting place to visit but involves an early start & a fast boat called a Rapido.
We had to walk from Leticia in the early hours to Tabatinga which is basically the Brazilian part of Leticia. The Rapido departed from Santa Rosa which was on the other side of the Amazon River. Colombian taxi boats didn't run at this time of the night. The walk through the back streets of Tabatinga was a little scary especially as Steve mentioned it was one of the most dangerous roads in Brazil with 17 murders to it's name.
On arrival we had to wait on a Balsa which is a house or shop built on logs & floats. The Rapido was loaded to capacity which meant it would be slower. Ususlly it takes 9 - 10 hours to get to Iquitos but in this case it took over 13 which made it a long journey.

The Rapido we took to Iquitos after being hit by a barge.
On arrival in Iquitos the crew had to report to the Captain of the Harbour (Harbourmaster). This meant docking in the commercial area. On backing out a huge barge drifted towards us closing the only gap to get out. It started to look dangerous & the Rapido was hit by the barge in the stern. The Rapido changed direction to get away from the barge but was badly damaged & holed although we didn't realise the extent of the damage at the time. The crew tried to find another way out but hit another boat. On this the crew all abandoned ship leaving all the passengers. We sat & watched as the boat drifted into the middle of the harbour listing from the stern. It was time to get off & one of the passengers tried to use a length of wood to push us to shore. Eventually some dock workers threw us a line & pulled us to another barge where we jumped off.
After this it was a walk through the docks to the road & a taxi bike ride to the hotel.

Wild caught severus

Fish shipper in Iquitos.

We had not seen this catfish before.

'L' type catfish.

Holding ponds in the facility.


Unknown creature caught in the net.

Typical crab. This one was quite small at about 3 cm but some can get quite large.

You need to watch out for these. This is the feared vampire fish which is attracted to urine. Fish release this from the gills. These fish home in on it & feed off blood in the gills. Young fish will enter a humans private area if you urinate in the river. They have to be surgically removed. We let these go back into the river.

Puffers were collected in the main Amazon River off mud banks.

Flatfish collected in the main river off mud banks.

Steve putting our catch of Sorubim lima & Perrunichthys perruno on a vine. These were for eating. We had some for lunch & took the rest back home for later. Nice tasting fish.

Some Links
If this has whetted your apetite for a trip to the Amazon to see fish in there native habitat why not visit the Albergue Tacana website & book your adventure
where you can visit Colombia, Peru & Brazil. It's not just for fish enthusiasts you can also see fantastic birds, butterflies & of course the tropical rainforest.

I love this song. It was being played all over the placeão Lucas e Marcelo - Tchu Tcha Tcha
'Mad Mick's' Iquitos Times newspaper
Tres Fronteras Acuario