Shane's World Right Arrow CatfishologyRight Arrow Apisto Heaven

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded January 01, 2002.

Lying only seventy kilometers from the bustling infamy of Rio De Janeiro, and nestled within the stunning foothills of Marica in the Regiao dos Lagos, lies a little known treasure called Apisto Heaven. Far from what the name might suggest, this is not Las Vegas for dwarf cichlids, but rather a groundbreaking facility for tourists who want to try their hand at fish collecting and much more besides.

Apisto Heaven
'Apisto Heaven'
A view from the Marica Highlands
A view from the Marica Highlands

Founded by Maik Beyer in 1995, Apisto Heaven was originally intended simply as a fish farm and breeding centre for dwarf cichlids, but the venture was soon to gather greater momentum. While collecting specimens for breeding, Maik soon found that his capturing trips were taking him all over Brazil and were turning up species which had never before been exported. Maik and his assistants were soon working intensively with all kinds of rare fishes and it had become clear that there was scope for much more than a simple cichlid breeding station:

'In 2000 I began to think about incorporating tourism, and I started in earnest in 2001,' says Maik. 'I thought that creating a touring center from Apisto Heaven could potentially fill a gap in the collecting holiday market, because so many people head straight for the Amazon, and dismiss nearly everything else. I felt that areas here in Rio and Sao Paulo could not only offer a great variety of fishes for the collector, but a chance to see so much other nature which other expeditions sometimes ignore.'

Maik (left) and co-worker collecting
Maik (left) and co-worker collecting
Clear water stream in Sao Paulo
Clear water stream in Sao Paulo

Using the Marica fish farm as base, Apisto Heaven takes groups from a minimum of four persons to a maximum of seven, often of several different nationalities. Maik prides himself on the fact that he can cater for everyone, from the hard core collector to the accidental tourist keen simply to see some interesting flora and fauna. Perhaps most crucially, Apisto Heaven can make light work of that perennial problem … the avid aquarist travelling with (somewhat less keen) spouse.

'The difference is that apart from being a rich source of rare species, Marica is a prime holiday area, already popular as a weekend getaway for people from Rio,' he explains. ' There are so many beaches, waterfalls and, of course, the tropical Atlantic rainforest to be explored. A holiday with Apisto Heaven is ideal both for fish enthusiasts and those who have no interest in fish whatsoever - but like nature and have never seen Brazil.'

Maik tailors every trip specifically to the individual needs of each group, within which seasoned travellers may well be holidaying alongside sun burned first timers. 'I organize each trip around what people want to see or do, so that they can see everything they came for, whether that be plant animal, or fish!'

As an example, he cites recent trips in Sao Paolo and Rio as typical Apisto Heaven expeditions, but stresses that the groups themselves can really 'build their own' break. 'Trips range between 10 and 15 days, during which time we'll travel around 200 km. In 14 days, we have the chance to collect in many different biotopes; clear, white and blackwater streams, and brackish too. We take in coast and country waters, as well as day and night collecting.'

Cataracts in the Marica Highlands
Cataracts in the Marica Highlands
  Rio Da Mata - Scleromystax barbatus are collected here.
Rio Da Mata - Scleromystax barbatus are collected here.

'The best time for travel is between March and December. The climate here is easier even than the summer in Mediterranean Europe, and the conditions are far less rigorous for the traveller than those of the Amazon area!'

But what about the fish? Below are a selection of the fish that live in these areas. The fish shown range from the common right through to those that are simply not seen in the hobby; seldom seen at best. For the purposes of an article at, we are only showing catfish species; but there is much more besides.

click on the image to view full size The evergreen Corydoras aeneus depicted here showing its gold and green Brazilian colours. What often strikes aquarists collecting fish in their habitat for the first time is the sheer beauty of even the most commonly available species.
click on the image to view full size The resplendent Scleromystax barbatus. Here an adult male is shown.
click on the image to view full size Scleromystax kronei is similar to S. barbatus and, although females and sub-adults are similar, they can be distinguished from the colouration of adults.
click on the image to view full size The true Corydoras flaveolus, a pearly beauty from Serra do Piracicaba. You are looking at the first published photograph of this dream fish in any medium.
click on the image to view full size Scleromystax sp. An infrequent import from blackwater habitat in Sao Paulo where it can be found with S. macropterus. It goes by the trade name of 'Baianinho II' or C112. This picture shows a male with the characteristic gold 'underline' stripe running from the pectoral fin base to the lower caudal peduncle.
click on the image to view full size Described since this article was first published, this species of Corydoras has long been thought to be C. flaveolus.
click on the image to view full size Described since this article was first published, Corydoras difluviatilis, is from Serrano, a town in Sao Paulo state. It is commonly called C. garbei in the hobby and was been imported around 15 years ago in huge quantities. Today sugar cane is planted around its habitats, washing soil into the formerly clear waters. Fishermen say that only 10 years ago there were hundreds of Corydoras around, whereas collecting them today is very demanding.
click on the image to view full size Hypostomus margaritifer - THE 'original' black with white spots pleco, this fish is found living alongside H. regani (below), the two fish look similar unless you can compare them side by side.
click on the image to view full size The regal H. regani. It has a larger, more fan like dorsal fin and is more elongate and slender than H. margaritifer.
click on the image to view full size This super whiptail lives together with Hypostomus regani, H. margaretifer and others in the Rio Pardo. Loricaria prolixa and L. lentiginosa both originate from the Rio Mogi Guassu River system and are very similar morphologically. The one pictured has a network pattern on the head leading to the ID of P. lentiginosa.
click on the image to view full size Previously known as a species of Otocinclus, this species now has its own genus, Lampiella. A small, colourful humpbacked species that favours cooler water.
click on the image to view full size Very similar to Parotocinlcus maculicauda, this fish exhibits a broader headshape. The real P. maculicauda from Rio state appears more elongated and slender in the body. The three paler blotches along the top of the fishes back remain constant despite variable (perhaps regional) darker pigmentation.
click on the image to view full size A diminutive beauty found in the clear waters of Rio state and quite rare now due to pollution. This is a dwarf species, growing up to 1 inch maximum size. Typical is the striped pattern which, together with the bony extension of the supraoccipital is unique for this species. Difficult to keep in aquarium due to its super-sensitive water requirements.
click on the image to view full size Rineloricaria sp.aff. latirostris - This is the species found entering the hobby and hails from Rio de Janeiro state.
click on the image to view full size This is the real Rineloricaria latirostris from Sao Paulo; it sports an adaptable chameleon like colouration as you can see from the 'in-habitat' photo here. There are also differences in the male's head odontodes when mature.

Quite apart from versatility, Apisto Heaven can also boast an impressive array of facilities at its base in Marica. Most importantly is that Maik is a fully licensed fish collector. The fish farm itself has extensive holding facilities for those fish caught on expedition and the team there offers a wealth of practical advice and experience for those who want it. The station provides all transport to collecting/touring destinations, and, because the station was initially intended as a collection and fish farming installation, all equipment that the collector could ever need is freely available for use. When groups are touring in Rio de Janeiro, accommodation is supplied for them on site in a comfortable house which stands alongside the fish farm itself. When collecting in the Sao Paolo area however, groups are treated to the luxury of hotel accommodation.

Rio De Azeite - Sao Paulo
Rio De Azeite - Sao Paulo
Unforgettable Sunset
Unforgettable Sunset

The clear water stream shown above is the Rio de Azeite in Sao Paulo state. It has a pH of 6.5, 30 microsiemens, almost no hardness and a temperature ranging from 18 upto 22°C. This shallow (max. 1m depth) fast flowing and beautiful crystal clear water is a great example of 'catfish heaven'! Catfish commonly collected here are: Lampiella gibbosa, Harttia kronei, Corydoras kronei, Ancistrus sp. Kronichthys lacerta, Rineloricaria latirostris and Parotocinclus cf. maculicauda.

When asked what Apisto Heaven has to offer over other operators, Maik is enthusiastic: 'Firstly, there are no other collecting trip operators like us here in Brazil, and secondly, with Apisto Heaven you can have all the adventure of an expedition but with all the comfort of a holiday!'

For further details, email Maik Beyer at Apisto Heaven.

There is further information on this species on the Cat-eLog page.

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