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The Zoo’s New Residents Revealed!


Posted May 2020

Two new arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species, have been added to the Amazon River basin habitat in the Zoo’s Aquatic & Reptile Center. After a two-year growing period, in separate holding tanks off-exhibit, the 4-foot-long fish reached a size large enough to become residents of the habitat.

ArapaimaThe arapaima arrived at MCZ at 9-inches long, as a new species for the population. The Zoo last exhibited arapaima in 2004. The fish needed to grow so they didn’t become prey for the other species, like the catfish, living in the habitat. Full grown, arapaima can reach sizes of 10-feet or longer!

Its distinguished appearance includes a broad, bony head, upturned mouth and a dorsal fin that stretches along its back toward the tail. Their heads are a goldish-green color, with black bodies with a white center, and striking red tails.

One of the arapaima swims past the pacu.

In the wild, arapaima are found in Brazil, Peru and Guyana. They primarily live in slow-moving and oxygen-deficient rivers of the Amazon River basin. Arapaima can breathe air above the water and are able to survive up to 24 hours outside water. Its gills are very small, to take in air using a modified swim bladder that opens into its mouth, acting as a lung.

In the wild, they eat mostly fish, but also fruits, seeds, insects, birds and mammals found on the surface of water. At the Zoo, they eat primarily fish, including smelt, capelin, herring and sardines. Their fish diet is supplemented with pellets. They’re also able to share fruits and vegetables that are fed to the pacu fish living in the same habitat. Arapaima can live up to 20 years.

Video: Milwaukee County Zoo Arapaima Released Into Amazon Exhibit