Shane's World Right Geography Right The Venezuelan Diary Series, Part 3 • Return to the Rio Zuata

Article © Shane Linder, uploaded January 01, 2002.

This Sunday, 17 Sept. 2000, I drove south out of Caracas to the Rio Zuata. Just south of the little village of San Casimiro the road crosses the Rio Zuata. I collected from the bridge to about 500 yards downstream. On my last trip to this spot I had wondered up the river. Last weeks rains had greatly changed the river. Instead of being a lazy crystal-clear stream it had become a fairly fast moving small river and the water was heavy with sediment. Perhaps the greatest surprise was the change in temperature. On my last visit I estimated the temperature to be near 80°F. The rains had greatly cooled the river and I estimated the temperature to be near 70°F.

Near the bridge I collected net after net of the ubiquitous guppies and some tetras. I have found only one species of tetra in this river and have yet to identify it to species. The tetra is an overall silver with a single black stripe running from the operculum to the caudal peduncle. At the caudal peduncle, both above and below the stripe, are two bright red circular markings. These tetras are always caught singly which leads me to believe that they are not a schooling species. The largest specimen captured was about 2 inches SL. About 100 feet downstream there were a number of plants hanging down into the water from the river bank.

I collected this area with my seine and caught three small loricariids. All three are less than one inch and appear to be fry of a Hypostomus-like species. I kept all three and will raise them up to see what they turn out to be. This collecting location has to be the best in the world for pike cichlids and I caught many on this trip. There are at least two (or possibly more) distinct species. The cichlid catch of the day was a 10 inch (SL) pike . One species has an ocelli on the caudal fin and lots of orange color. The second has bright red on the dorsal and gill covers. The giant pike was the second, red, type.

The greatest discovery of the day was a new Chaetostoma sp. that I had not caught previously. This fish is by far the most attractive Chaetostoma I have ever seen. The body is an overall dark green with white spots. A thick yellow / white stripe runs down both the caudal and dorsal fins in a manner similar to that of the various Baryancistrus spp. The Chaetostoma were only captured in the strongest riffles by kick seining. Luckily, my strange actions in the river brought a few local children to investigate. I took video footage of them and played it back for them to see on the camcorder's flip out screen. Needless to say I was a big hit. I ended up with three small boys, one girl and a monkey on a leash as fishing companions. The boys quickly grasped how to use the seine and were a great help. I kept and photographed all of the loricariids and they kept all of the pike cichlids for dinner. The boys showed me how they collect loricariids by reaching under rocks and feeling for them. When a fish is felt it is quickly snatched up. Of course, to utilize this method you have to be brave enough to stick your hands into underwater holes in the jungle.

They boys told me that the loricariids are turned loose in people's cisterns (rain water reservoirs) in order to eat the algae and keep the reservoirs clean. The last mentionable catch was a large (8 inch SL) pimelodid that appeared to belong to the genus Rhamdia. The fish was basically an overall dappled gray with no other markings. Since the large pim was caught under a rock, I realized that I would never try the boy's method for hand catching loricariids. I would bet that a pim that large could pack quite a sting. I became weary of pim stings in Ecuador when I noticed that the fishermen were doing anything not to touch any pims in their nets. I have always figured that they knew what they were doing since they likely learned from experience.

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