Look at our 110,000 gallon Amazon Flooded Forest display and one of the first fish you are likely to notice are the tambaqui–we have about fifty of ‘em! They are commonly, yet erroneously, called pacu in English and are in the same family as the infamous piranha. Tambaqui can reach over 3 feet in length, over 60 pounds in weight and are widely distributed throughout the Amazon and Orinoco basins.
These fish display distinct countershading; they’re black ventrally and yellow to olive-green dorsally. However, the most characteristic feature of these gentle giants is the amazing dentition they have evolved. Their teeth are cuspid, resemble human molars and, along with their powerful jaws, allow them to crush the fruit, nuts and seeds on which they heavily feed.
Look head-on at one of our tambaqui and you’ll notice that it appears to have two protrusions on the upper part of its snout kind of like the headlights on a sports car. These are actually nasal flaps that raise, allowing more water to flow past the olfactory cells of the nose and helping the fish locate fruit that has fallen into the water from overlying trees.
Here at the Academy we feed our tambaqui daily “fiestas” consisting of assorted fruits and a small amount of greenery. Organic only, of course! The photograph below depicts an average daily meal consisting of apples, pears, bananas, figs, honeydew, cantaloupe and grapes:
They are voracious feeders!
In the wild, tambaqui are key seed dispersal agents and are critical to the regeneration biology of Amazonian floodplain forests. They are also prized for their uniquely mild, sweet flavor and are one of the most heavily exploited food species in the Amazon. Considerable economic importance for commercial fishing and for breeding in captivity (aquaculture) has placed a lot of attention on this species; it is exemplary of a tropical rainforest resource that can be managed in the wild.