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THESE FISH are often compared favorably to largemouth bass. It’s an un- fair comparison, but a frame of reference most anglers can relate to. Big bucket- mouths are notoriously lethargic. Where as the big- ger a peacock bass grows, the tougher it is to land.
The tucunaré (temen-
sis) are alternately known
as the speckled, three-
barred, or giant peacock
bass and the large fish
have earned the reputa-
tion as one of freshwa-
ter’s most powerful and challenging game fish. It’s
the variety that grows the largest, most powerful, and ag- gressive of all the species, and the one serious anglers covet. They’re native to Brazil’s Rio Negro, Rio Branco, the lower Rio Madeira basins and found in the Orinoco and upper Rio Negro drainages in Venezuela and Colombia.
It was long thought, thatc oloration differences of the big pea- cocks indicated many different vari- eties. However, Reiss and his associates from Rutgers and Manaus have proven that the speckled, three- barred, and the giant peacock bass are all one and the same creature.
In truth, all of them are (or begin as) speckled peacock bass. Then, as they sexually mature and approach spawning season in their particular drainage (usually coinciding with the wet season) the spots begin to disap- pear and the three bars on their sides become more obvious. Ultra- bright coloration will remain for sev- eral months through the nesting season and continue as long as the pair guards and protects their young.
The color differences are so pro- nounced that the fish go by different names,“açu” and “paca” in Brazil, the “speckled’ and “three-bar’ in English- speaking sport fishing community.
Scientists know that color can have a biological value and im- pact. Brightly colored three-bar fish may be more attractive to potential mates. The common spot on their tail (which gives them their name) might ward off attack from the rear. Bright col- ors in the wild also indicate toxi- city, and the brilliant colors of fry-guarding or nesting fish may be a warning to other fish that there’s risk to coming close to the infants or eggs.
At the other color extreme, non- spawning fish are busy going about the business of fattening up for the long fast associated with spawning. They need to hunt effectively in the dark, flooded forests bordering the Amazon lagoons and backwaters.
If you’ve ever looked into the dark, tea-stained waters at the edge of a lagoon with their submerged wood, dappled with leaf-filtered sun- light, you’ll understand exactly how a dark, speckled predator can disap- pear into the shadows. Camouflage is also a very effective hunting tool.
The photos on these two pages demonstrate the extremes in the color variation and variety
Most peacocks spawn near the end of the dry season when low water levels make more spawning area available. However, not all spawn at the same time and different spots have different relative depths, so you’ll likely see all of the coloration stages during a typical fishing trip. Some of them are spectacular and you’ll often find simultaneous char- acteristics of speckled and three-bar markings in the fish you catch.
Equally captivating are the unique and distinct markings on the gill plates of sexually mature fish. All are as different as our own fingerprints.
A smaller cousin, Cichla ocellaris, is called the ‘butterfly” or Borboleta in Portuguese peacock, and range in size from 2 to 8 pounds. They co- habit with the usually much larger tu-
cunaré, and are found in much greater numbers than the big boys. It’s not unusual to hook and land dozens upon dozens of the smaller variety in a single day in many rivers of the Rio Negro drainage and other parts of their range. Unlike the temensis, which are most always found in singles and pairs, butterflies are schooling fish, and con-
gregate as a family unit. When you come upon a bunch of them, they’ll usually all be the same size. Most of the time they travel and hunt as a pack and, it is thought, butterfly pea- cocks may find safety and security in
their own numbers.
They do separate into pairs to
spawn, and like their larger cousins, are most aggressive to a fly when they are protecting their nest or their young.
The dozen or so other species of peacock bass are found in re- markably different terrain than the lowland, warm water typical of the Rio Negro drainage tucu- naré and butterflies.
Some of these feature dark rosettes instead of stripes, or light speckles, others sport impressive shades of green, orange, blue, and gold or dark, lateral bands. It is spec- ulated that geographic isolation, colder or swift water might explain the startling differences in coloration between the breathtaking beauty of royal peacock bass (Cichla intermedia) or the near-neon coloration of the yellow peacock bass found in crystal clear rivers of the Kayapo territory.
As Paul Reiss goes on to further explains on his website, “Amazon peacocks live in the most pristine and exotic habitats on earth. Jungle lined-blackwater rivers, hidden la- goons and white-sand scalloped beaches are just some of the spec- tacular settings in their native en- vironment. The alien-appearing, isolated still waters lend a counter- point to their sudden, violent and explosive attacks.”
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