Peacock bass, also known as Pavon or Tucunare, is one of the main targeted species for fisherman in the Amazonian and Orinoco basin systems. Most of us are able to establish there is a peacock bass when we see one, and some of us are also able to Feel-ID once they fiercely attack our flies! And in many occasions we have discussed with our fishing buddies about what kind of peacock bass we caught.
If we want a little deeper knowledge about peacock bass and positively identify them, we need to follow a few simple clues to understand how scientists came to the conclusion of what a peacock bass really is.
WHAT IS A PEACOCK BASS?
Once the first scientist had the opportunity to classify a peacock bass, he decided that a peacock bass belonged to the animal Kingdom because it doesn’t have chlorophyll and have locomotive capabilities, so it was an animal. When a dissection procedure was taking place, they identified a spine, that's formed from a notochord on the embryo stage, and then they decided that it belongs to the phylum Chordata. Also they noticed fin rays, therefore they got classified as actinopterygian. Once they were positive identified as this type of fish, they decided that they belong to the Perciformes order, because their contour looks similar to a perch. Later they were introduced to the cichlidae family, where their members, the cichlids, are recognized for their pharyngeal jaws, a nostril on each side of the head, the absence no supporting bone under the eye socket, and their stomach is connected to small intestine on the left side.
The cichlid family (Cichlidae) can be found in Asia, Africa and in a bigger proportion in America, from Mexico to Argentina. It covers many species, among these: Mojarras (Caquetaia), juanviejos (Geophagus), oscars (Astronotus), mataguaros (Crenicichla), angel fish (Pterophyllum), discus (Symphysodon) and many more.
On the cichlid family we found the gender Cichla that covers all the peacock bass species on which the main difference among the other cichlids is their deep and elongate body. It dorsal fin increase in length from their fifth radius, the jaws expands when the fish open the mouth and an ocellus is found on the base of the caudal fin, which is the most notorious distinction of the Cichla gender.
CAUDAL OCELUM - Distinctive mark on all peacock bass species.
In Almost all peacock bass species, the males present a hump while there are in spawning season.
CICHLA GENDER: ALL PEACOCK BASS SPECIES
Scientists use a complex system to identify the species in a specific gender, like the quantity of fins, the quantity of radius on the different fins, the quantity of scales along the body, etc. however, for us, without being a scientist, we just need to know the more noticeable features of the fish to identify a peacock bass.
In a scientific review that was conducted in 2003, 5 species of peacocks known until then were ratified, the Cichla temensis, Ocellaris C., C. Mon oculus, orinocensis C. and C. Intermedia. In 2006 the Swedish zoologist Sven Kullander and Brazilian ichthyologist Efrem Ferreira published their study "A review of the South American cichlid genus Cichla, with descriptions of nine new species (Teleostei: Cichlidae)" with which currently complete records of 15 peacock species.
Kullander & Ferreira, 2006
As the description of the new species is based on the five species previously identified, we first show the previously known and then, the new species classified by the two scientists.
PARTS OF A CICHLID
Cichla temensis. (Humboldt, 1821)
Speckled Peacock Bass, Pavón Cinchado, Pavón Lapa o Pinta de Lapa.
Is the largest of the peacock bass, it could grow up to 3 ft and weight up to 30 pounds.
Cichla temensis in Speckled phase
IDENTIFICATION: three completed vertical stripes on the side, from the top of dorsal fin down to the lateral line. They have a series of dark spots behind the eye. When is not mating season, the fish shows a characteristic color of the “Lapa” phase, that is known for showing a gray or green coloration with four white or yellow dotted vertical pattern.
Cichla temensis in “Lapa” phase
When they are in mating season, on the “speckled” phase, the three vertical stripes get more noticeable and the specimen have a stronger coloration that goes from yellow to dark green. On this phase the C. Temensis have a thicker body due to hormonal changes.
Distribution and habitat: they are found in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil on the Orinoco watershed, the Rio Negro, the Branco river and the Madeira. Their preferred waters are the lentic systems (still waters, lagoons, lakes, structure), however they can be found in slow water on the rivers.
Speckled and Paca, two patterns of C. temensis
Cichla orinocensis. (Humboldt, 1821)
Orinoco Peacock Bass, Pavón Mariposo, Pavón Orinoco, Borboleta (Brasil)
IDENTIFICATION: Three distinctive ocellus on the side instead of stripes as the C. Temensis. Its green and yellow coloration is more intense when in matting season. They can weigh up to 10 or 12 pounds.
Three ocellus on the side
Distribution and habitat: Their current habitat is the Orinoco watershed in Colombia and Venezuela, however they can also be found in the Río Negro and Río Branco in Brazil. They are found on lentic systems, in lagoons and rivers with heavy cover and other hiding spots.
Cichla ocellaris. (Bloch & Schneider, 1801)
Butterfly Peacock Bass, Tucunaré, Lukanini,
IDENTIFICATION: Three incomplete vertical stripes that ends on the top part of the lateral line and also a partial or complete ocellus above the rear stripe under the second dorsal fin. It presents a series of black clear edged spots horizontally below the pectoral fin. No pos-orbital marks. Their weight can reach 12 pounds.
Distribution and habitat: Found in the rivers of the northeastern Guiana Shield in Guyana, French Guyana, Surinam and Brazil northwest end. It could also be found in some rivers along the higher Orinoco basin. It was implanted in southern Florida and (USA) thanks to its adaptive ability to other water temperatures and high levels of minerals. Prefer lotic systems (running water).
Cichla monoculus. (Spix & Agassiz, 1831)
Monoculus Peacock Bass, Tucunaré, Popoca.
IDENTIFICATION: It has three incomplete vertical stripes ending above the lateral line and a band of dark spots starting from the base of the pectoral fin to the back. It does not have orbital post marks but the adult specimens develop a dark occipital stripe. Strong and defined colors, does not reach a weigh more than 8 to 10 pounds.
Distribution and habitat: Found throughout the Amazon basin in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. It prefers lentic systems in shallow water.
Cichla intermedia. (Machado-Allison, 1971)
Royal Peacock Bass , Pavón Real.
It was the fifth peacock bass classified after the 2006 revision. Cichla intermedia
IDENTIFICATION: It has a row of dark spots star-shaped and six or seven thin vertical stripes below lateral line. No generic ocellus defined outside of the one found on the tail and has no white spots. Usually it has irregular spots on the operculum. Their colors are very colorful and bright, ranging from yellow to light green. Presents blue iridescent colorations in their fins at spawning time. Usually their weight does not exceed 6 pounds.
Distribution and habitat: Found exclusively in Colombian and Venezuelan Orinoco basin rivers, they prefer fast moving waters high in oxygen.
Cichla nigromaculata. (Jardine & Schomburgk, 1843)
IDENTIFICATION: Although was initially classified in 1843, was only until the 2006 review that it is accepted as a different species to Cichla monoculus. It has three relatively thin dark vertical bars and including two less defined bars. It has no marks on the operculum. Its color is dark green with dark dorsal fins.
Chicha nigromaculata - (S. Traviss from FishBase)
Distribution and Habitat: it can be found in the upper rivers of the Orinoco basin and the Casiquiare, also in the northern section of the Río Negro in Brazil. They prefer still waters and flood systems.
Cichla jariina. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: It has similar marks to C. temensis in the operculum and instead of vertical stripes on the side Jairina Peacock Bass has three large and well-defined dark spots with lighter edges.
Distribution and habitat: They are only found in the Jari River on the Amazon basin. They have been also found in all water conditions of this river, going upstream in rapids and white water.
Cichla kelberi. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: Similar to Cichla monoculus in coloration, the vertical bars and the occipital stripe of mature specimens, it differs by having clear points in their lower fins.
Distribution and habitat: Found in lentic systems on Araguaia and Tocantins Rivers in Brazil.
Cichla melaniae. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: Main difference among other peacock bass species are three vertical dark stripes relatively thin including two less defined bars, also numerous small and well defined points along the whole side. Gold or yellow colored with clear, bluish fins.
Distribution and habitat: They're found in lentic systems on the Xingu River in Brazil.
Cichla mirianae. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: It has three vertical dark bars and several ringed spots along the lateral line. Its color is yellow or gold on the sides and green on the back.
Distribution and habitat: native of the Tapajos, Juruema and Teles Pires Rivers. Also found in the upper Xingu River in Brazil.
Cichla pinima. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: It has three vertical dark spots marked with clear edge on the side, and smaller spots on the operculum.
Chicha pinima - (M.Arostegui from FishBase)
Distribution and habitat: they’re found on the Tapajós and Xingu Rivers in Brazil.
Cichla piquiti. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: gray or yellow, it has five vertical dark bands on its side. Reaches weights up to 15 pounds.
Distribution and habitat: it's native of the Tocatins and Araguaia rivers. It has been successfully introduced on dams in south Brazil because of its great adaptability.
Cichla pleiozona. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
Tucunaré, , Sargento (Panamá)
IDENTIFICATION: It has three vertical dark bars, a dark occipital bar in the adult specimens, and a fourth dark bar at the level of the caudal peduncle.
Distribution and habitat: Found at the Madeira River in Brazil and the Bolivian Amazonian basin. It was introduced to Lake Gatun and Chagres River in Panama, in some areas in Colombia and Puerto Rico.
Cichla thyrorus. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: It has three large ringed spots that replace side bars in adults, and also has abundant spots on the operculum.
Distribution and habitat: it's found in the upper Trombetas River in Brazil.
Cichla vazzoleri. (Kullander & Ferreira, 2006)
IDENTIFICATION: Very similar to Cichla thyorous, has three large ringed spots that replace side bars in adults, and also has spots on the operculum.
Cichla vazzoleri - (M. Arostegui from FishBase)
Distribution and habitat: Present at the top of the Trombetas River and in the middle of the Uatuma River in Brazil.
VERY SIMILAR SPECIES?
We can conclude that a good part of the nine species of peacock bass described by Kullander and Ferreira in 2006 are very similar to those that existed before, and indeed these species were considered as subspecies of Cichla temensis, Cichla monoculus, or Cichla ocellaris, and we also realize that some are restricted to very small territories (sections of a river), but have been recognized as different species, because of a taxonomic study that showed key differences among other member of the Cichla gender.
The discovery of these new species has reopened the debate on the species of peacock bass that have been introduced in unnatural habitats, as the state of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Panama, Thailand and not Amazon or Orinoco basins of Colombia and Argentina. Recently it was assumed that all those peacock bass implanted in other waters were Cichla ocellaris, but there is told that five other species could originate these populations. That is something that scientists must have to define based on the precise taxonomic keys, as these fish acquire different colorations in dissimilar conditions of water and food found outside its original territory.
TWO PEACOCK BASS MAIN GROUPS
Scientists who rated peacock bass new species divide them into two groups, the group Cichla temensis and the group Cichla ocellaris:
In the group of Cichla temensis are species that have a dark horizontal band throughout the body, in addition to the bars or ocellus when the fish is in its juvenile stage. These are: Cichla temensis, Cichla jariina, Cichla thyrorus, Cichla mirianae, Cichla melaniae, Cichla pinima, Cichla piquiti and Cichla vazzoleri,
In the group of Cichla ocellaris are species that have 3 spots or ocellus, and a horizontal strip from the first to the last spot in in its juvenile stage. These are: Cichla ocellaris, Cichla orinocensis, Cichla monoculus, Cichla nigromaculata, Cichla kelberi, Cichla pleiozona and Cichla intermedia.
The group of C. temensis grow much more than those of C. ocellaris, up to 30 pounds the C. temensis, and 15 pounds the C. piquiti and C. pinima. The group of C. ocellaris is smaller, up to about 12 pounds. The species that can be bigger in this group is C. orinocensis weighing up to 15 pounds, and the smaller is C. intermedia, not exceeding 5 or 6 pounds.
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© Carlos R. Heinsohn – Exclusive rights over text and pictures.