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Amazing Arapaima: Photos of the Amazon's Biggest Fish

Arapaima Fish
The arapaima fish, native to the Amazon River basin, can weigh as much as 400 pounds (180 kilograms).
(Image: © Sergio Ricardo de Oliveira)

It was this big!

critically endangered animals, arapaima, over-fishing

(Image credit: Leandro Castello, Virginia Tech)

The largest freshwater fish in South America, arapaima (Arapaima gigas) can grow to over 10 feet (3 meters) long and have been known to tip the scales at over 400 pounds (180 kilograms). Typically gray in color, their bodies are wide with a tapered head.

Handmade tools

critically endangered animals, arapaima, over-fishing

(Image credit: Leandro Castello, Virginia Tech)

Commonly known as a paiche or pirarucu, the arapaima fish is a valuable commodity for fishers in the Amazon basin, who traditionally hunt the fish with harpoons in homemade canoes.

An easy target

critically endangered animals, arapaima, over-fishing

(Image credit: Leandro Castello, Virginia Tech)

Like most fish, the arapaima can breathe underwater, however, it also breathes air. With its one lung, the fish comes to the surface once every 5 to 15 minutes. And when it does surface, the arapaima emits a distinctive coughing noise, which makes it easy for fishers to find and kill them.

Many uses

critically endangered animals, arapaima, over-fishing

(Image credit: Leandro Castello, Virginia Tech)

The arapaima is mainly hunted for its meat, but some indigenous communities also consume the fish's tongue. Its large scales are also used to create jewelry and other items.

Protection efforts

critically endangered animals, arapaima, over-fishing

(Image credit: SUNY-ESF)

Though this species was once abundant in the Amazon basin, it is now on the brink of extinction in some areas. However, researchers are hopeful that more stringent fishing regulations and other conservation efforts will bring arapaima populations back to healthy numbers in the future.