Amazon stream biotope aquarium, a freshwater habitat in Peru


A biotope aquarium is set-up to simulate a natural habitat. The fish, plants, water chemistry, light conditions, and tank furnishings are similar to those that can be found in a specific natural setting.


The southeastern part of Peru is arguably the most biodiverse place on the planet. This biological wealth extends to the river systems found in this tropical rainforest environment.

This biotope profile will look specifically at a rainforest stream flowing into the Madre de Dios River.

Rainforest streams

Small rainforest streams are common in this part of Peru. They generally arise from springs and range in width from a few inches to 10-14 feet according to Amazon Headwaters. Rainforest streams in the region rarely exceed 3 miles (5 km) in length.

Rainforest Stream Characteristics

Depth: Depth ranges from a few centimeters to rarely more than 5 feet (1.5 m).

Temperature: Temperature is relatively constant due to shading by the forest canopy. Streams are roughly 1-2 degrees cooler than river channels.

Water chemistry: According to Amazon Headwaters, there is high variation of water chemistry between streams. In their survey, the authors found the pH to range from 3.8-4.9 while conductivity was 10-15. pH and conductivity rise during the low water period, possibly due to "increased phytoplankton production." Water transparency also increases at this time.

Oxygen levels: Oxygen concentrations are generally high but fall slightly when large quantities of organic matter are present.

Substrate: The substrate consists of mud or sand with overlaying organic matter and vegetation in varying states of decomposition. There is a large amount of submerged wood and in some areas, especially fast-flowing sections, there may be a cover of pebbles and stones.

Aquatic Plants

I observed very few aquatic plants in the rainforest stream -- especially in shaded areas where very little light penetrate the dense canopy. In a unshaded pool section an Amazon sword plant (Echinodorus sp.) was present along with a grassy Vallisneria-like plant. There were plants growing with roots submerged but leaves emersed in some sections of the stream. It is a different case in the nearby forest "swamp ponds."

Surrounding vegetation: The stream is surrounded by rainforest.

Tank setup

Tank size will depend on the type of fish you plan to keep in your biotope aquarium. If you are going with smaller tetras, catfish, and Apistogramma then you can use a smaller tank than if you plan to go with larger cichlids.

Current: Current ranges from very slight to moderate (in shallow areas with a pebble substrate). If you are going for a "stream pool" effect then direct filter outflows to moderate water current.

Lighting: Rainforest streams are generally shaded by an overhead canopy minimizing plant growth and resulting in dark conditions. However, in "light gaps" where trees have recently fallen, sunlight is quite bright. If you want to model your biotope after an exposed area then you could use bright overhead lighting.

Layout: Few plants, lots of wood, and open swimming areas are recommended.

Substrate: Fine gravel or sand overlaid with pebbles and rocks.

Other notes: You might consider using some peat moss in your filtration system to reduce the pH and soften the water. Peat moss can also mimic the slightly tea-colored water conditions that result from decaying vegetation.

Fish suitable for aquariums

The rio Madre de Dios probably has more than 600 species, many of which have yet to be described according to Amazon Headwaters. Detritus-feeders, invertebrate-feeders, and seed- and fruit-eating species are abundant in the system.

The aquarium fisheries trade began in the department of Madre de Dios in 2002 according to Amazon Headwaters. The book says the rio Madre de Dios headwaters regions has advantages when compared with aquarium trade fisheries in other parts of the Amazon, namely that the seasonal high water period is "neither too deep nor too long to prevent aquarium trade fisherman from working during the rainy season. Elsewhere in the Amazon Basin aquarium trade fisheries largely stop during the flooding season." Further, the rio Madre de Dios watershed had a large number of endemic species, some of which are small and decorative enough to be attractive as aquarium fish. The book lists the following genera as promising for the aquarium trade: Abramites, Corydoras, Pterolebias, Apistogramma , Crenicichla, Mesonatua, Carnegiella, Gymnocorymbus, Hemigrammus, Tyttocharax, Tyttobrycon, Pyrrhulina, Ancistrus, Hypostomus, Pimelodella, and Pimelodus.

The following fish were observed in the rainforest stream: Mesonauta festivum and Moenkhausia sp. were the most conspicuous fish. Also present were river shrimp, leeches, and Ramshorn-like snails.

Compiled by Mario Napravnik

Acestrocephalus boehlkei
Acestrorrhynchus lacustrisCachoro, Pike characin
Aphyocharax pusillusBloodfin
Aphyocharax alburnusBloodfin
Aphyocheirodon sp
Astyanaclnus multidens
Aslyanax abramis
Astyanax anteroides
Aslyanax bimaculatus
Astyanax fasciatusTwo spotted Astianax Silvery tetra
Astyanax maxiumus
Bario steindachneri Blotch tailed bario
Brachichalcinus copei
Brycon erythropterumSabalo cola roja
Bryconacydnus ellisi
Bryconamencus pachacuti
Bryconops melanurusTail light tetra
Characidium fasciatus
Charax gibbosusGlass Headstander
Charax tectiferGlass Headstander
Cheirodon fugitiva
Cheirodon piaba
Cheirodon ait. notomelas
Creagrutus affinis
Creagrutus anary
Creagrutus beni
Ctenobrycon hauxwellianus
Galeocharax gulo
Gephyrocharax sp
Gymnocorymbus temetziBlack widow, Skirt Tetra
Gymnocorymbus thayeri
Hemibrycon jelskii
Hemibrycon jabonero
Hemigrammus lunatus
Hemigrammus ocelliferHead and tail light tetra
Hemmigrammus sp
Holoshestes heterodon
Hydroyicus sconberoides
Hyphessobrycon agulhaRed tailed flag tetra
Hysteronotus sp
Knodus aff. beta
Knodus gamma
Knodus megalops
Knodus aff. moenkhausii
Knodus smitthii
Knodus sp
Leptagoniates aff. pi
Moenkhausia barbouri
Moenkhausia comma
Moenkhausia dichrouraSpot tailed Moenkhausia
Moenkhausia jamesii
Moenkhausia oligolepisGlass tetra
Moralesia tectifera
Myleus rubripinnis
Othonocheirodus lethostigmus
Paragoniates alburnus
Phenacogaster pectinatus
Piabina beni
Piaractus brachyponusPacu
Pigocentrus nattereriRed piranha
Poptella compresa
Prionobrama filigeraGlass bloodfin
Raphiodon vulpinusChambira
Rhynobrycon negrensis
Roeboides affinisGlass characin
Roeboides myersiiGlass characin
Salminus aflinis
Serrasalmus humeralisPiranha
Serrasalmus rhombeusBlack piranha, Spotted piranha
Serrasalmus spilopleuraFire mouth piranha
Tetragonopterus argenteus
Triportheus albusSardina, sapanama
Triportheus angulatusSardina, Narrow Hatchetfish, sapanama
Tyttocharax spBristly mouthed tetra
Carnegiella schereriHatchet lish
Carnegiella myersiiMyersi hatchetfish
Thoracocharax stellatusSilver hatchetfish
ERYTHRINIDAE (3)Trahlras, huasacos
Erythrynus eryihrinusShort finned trahira
Hoplerytrhinus unitaeniatusTrahiras, huasacos
Hoplias malabaricusFasaco, Tiger fish, trahira
LEBIASINIDAE (1)Pyrrhulina
Pyrrhulina vittataBanded pyrrhulina
Prochilodus mariae
Prochilodus nigricans
Curimata sp
Cyphocharax sp
Steindachnerina dobula
Steindachnerina guentheri
Steindachnerina hypostoma
ANOSTOMIDAE (3)Leporinus
Leporinus fridericiFriderici leporinus
Leporinus striatusStriped leporinus
Leporinus yophoru
GYMNOTIDAE (2)Knife fish
Gymnotus carapoBanded Knife fish
Gymnotus coatesiKnife fish
Stemopygus macrurusGhost Knife fish
Sternopygus virescensKnife fish
HYPOPOMIDAE (2)Knife fish
Hypopomus muelleriKnife fish
Hypopomus spSpoted knife fish
Electrophous electricusElectric eel
Gymnorhamphichthys sp
Potamotrygon motoroFreshwater Stingray
Anchoviella carrikeri
Anchoviella guianensis
Lycengraulis batessi
Astroblepus sp
Rivulus urophtalmos
Pachyurus schomburgkiiAmazon croaker
Synbranchus marmoratusAtinga, Marbled Eel
Aequidens tetramerusSaddle Cichlid
Apistogramma luelingi
Apistogramma urteagai
Bujurquina cordemadi
Bujurquina tambopataeTambopata Flag Cichlid
Cichlasoma boliviense
Crenicichla semicinctaPike Cichlid
Mesonauta festivumFestive Cichlid
Satanoperca jurupariJurupari, Eartheater, Demon eartheater
DORADIDAE (1)Talking catfishes
Trachydora nattereriTalking catfish
AUCHENIPTERIDAE(2)Driftwood catfishes
Auchenipterus nuchalis
Trachelyopterus sp
ASPREDINIDAE (1)Banjo catfish
Dysichtys spSmooth banjo catfish
PIMELODIDAE (15)Antenna catfishes
Brachypatystoma spZungaro, Gilded catfish
Brachypatystoma filamentosumSalton, Gilded catfish
Brachypatystoma flavicansDorado, Gilded catfish
Cheirocerus eques
Goslinea platinemaMota flemosa
Heptapterus sp
Impartinnis sp
Hanhortiamdia sp
Megalonema sp
Microglanis spBumble bee cat
Pimelodella gracilisSlender pimelodella
Pimelodella lateristriga
Pimelodus maculatusCunshi
Pimelodus ornatusPimelodella angelica
Pimelodus pictus
Pseudoplatystoma fasciatumDoncella, Shovelnosed catfish
Rhamdia quelen
Rhamdia sebae
Zungaro zungaroZungaro
Pseudocetopsis plumbeusWhale catfish
TRICHOMYCTERIDAE (4)Parasitic catfishes, Pencil catfish
Branchioica sp
Trichomycterus vittatus
Trichomycterus sp
Vandellia plazaiiCandiru
Helogenes marmoratusMarbled catfish
CALLICHTHYIDAE (4)Armored Catfish, Corydoras
Callichthys callichthysShirui, Slender Armored Catfish
Corydoras semiaquilusCoridora, Sharp nosed corydora
Corydoras stenocephalusCoridora, cory
Hoplosternum thoracathumShirui, Port hoplo, Atipa
LORICARIIDAE (13)Suckermouth catfish
Ancistrus leucostictusBristle nose
Ancistrus spBristle nose
Aphianatorulus frankei
Chaetostoma sp
Farlowella sp
Hemiodontichthys acipenserinus
Farlowella sp.
Hypoptoma gulare
Hypostomus spPlecostomus, Sucker catfish
Rineloricaria morrowiWhiptail catfish
Rineloricaria spWhiptail catfish
Otocinclus vestitusDwarf sucker catfish
Otocinclus spSucker catfish
Sturisoma nigrirostrum

Aquarium Gone Wild Peru lists the following fish as being locally available in the Madre de Dios region.

Acanthodoras spinosissimus
Ancistrus sp.
Anduzedoras sp.
Aphanatorulus sp.
Aphanatorulus unicolor
Astroblepus sp.
Baryancistrus sp.
Brochis cf. britski
Brochis splendens
Bunocephalus sp.
Callichthys callichthys
Cetopsis coecuitens
Cochliodon sp.
Corydoras aeneus
Corydoras cf. aeneus
Corydoras cf. napoensis
Corydoras cf. trilineatus
Corydoras elegans
Corydoras eques
Corydoras latus
Corydoras weitzmani
Crossloricaria sp.
Crossloricaris bawahja
Dysichthys sp.
Entomocorus sp.
Farlowella sp.
Glyptoperichthys sp.
Helogenes marmoratus
Hemicetopsis sp.
Hemiodontichthys acipenserinus
Holplosternum litoralle
Hoplosternum thoracatum
Hypoptopoma sp.
Hypostumus sp.
Imparfinis sp.
Lamontichthys sp.
Loricarichthys sp.
Loricariidae sp.
Microglanis sp.
Nannoptopma sternoptychum
Otocinclus sp.
Otocinclus sp. cf. vestitus
Panaque sp.
Panaquolus sp.
Parauchenipterus galeatus
Parauchenipterus sp.
Pimelodella dorseyi
Pimelodella linami
Pimelodus ornatus
Pimelodus sp.
Pinirampus pinirunpu
Platystomatichthys sturio
Pseudopimelodus ranius
Pseudoplatystoma tigrinum
Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum
Psuedohemidon sp.
Rineloricaria lanceolata
Rineloricaria sp.
Suurisoma sp.
Tatia sp.
Trichomycterus sp.
Acaronia nassa
Aequidens tetramerus
Apistogramma cf. luelingi
Apistogramma cf. urtegai
Apistogramma rubrolineata
Apistogramma sp.
Apistogramma urtegai
Astronatus crassipinnis
Bujurquina sp.
Cichlasoma boliviense
Crenicichla sp.
Mesonauta festivus
Satanoperca jurupari
Satanoperca sp.
Acestrorhynchus falcatus
Anostomus anostomus
Anostomus sp.
Aphyocharax alburnus
Aphyocharax detatus
Aphyocharax pusillus
Astyanax bimaculatus
Boehlkea fredcochui
Bryconops melanurus
Carnegiella myersii
Carnegilla cf. strigata
Carnegilla sp.
Characidium fasciatum
Chilodus sp.
Chirodon kreggi
Ctenobrycon spirlurus
Exoden paradoxus
Hemigrammus elegans
Hemigrammus rodwayi
Hemigrammus sp.
Hyphessobrycon nigricinctus
Hyphessobrycon sp.
Hyphessobrycon stegemani
Hyphessobrycon vilmae
Leporinus desmotes
Leporinus friderici
Leporinus yophorus
Mimigoniates microlepis
Mimigoniates sp.
Monkhausia intermedia
Monkhausia santaefilonenae
Monkhausia sp.
Myleus sp.
Mylossoma aureum
Nannostomus marginatus
Paradon affinis
Phenacogaster sp.
Piaractus brachypomus
Prionobrama filigera
Pristella sp.
Pyrrhulina sp.
Pyrrhulina vittata
Roeboides affinis
Roeboides sp.
Serrasalmus cf. rhombeus
Serrasalmus sp.
Tetragonopterus sp.
Thorachocarax stellatus
Tyttocharax tambopatensis
Aphyolebias rubrocaudatus
Moema quiii
Rivulus beniensis
Rivulus christinae
Rivulus sp. Alta Chonta
Rivulus sp. Jayave
Rivulus sp. Maniri
Rivulus sp. Manuripe
Rivulus sp. Nusiniscato
Rivulus sp. Palcomayo
Rivulus sp. Palmera
Rivulus sp. Quimiri
Rivulus sp. San Gabon
Rivulus sp. Saniaca
Rivulus sp. Santa Rita
Rivulus sp. Vitobamba
Eigenmannia sp.
Eremophilus candidos
Erthrinus sp.
Gymnorhamphichthys rondoni
Gymnotus carapo
Gymnotus sp.
Hoplerythrinus sp.
Potamorrhaphis guianensis
Potamotrygon hystrix
Potamotrygon motoro
Potamotrygon sp.
Potamotrygon sp. cf.castexi
Rhamphichtys sp.
Steatogenys sp.
Synbranchus marmoratus
Trinectes maculatus

Nearby oxbow lake biotope | More pictures from Peru | Other biotope profiles
Exploring freshwater fish habitats in the rainforest of Peru



We encountered two forms of "swamp ponds" under the rainforest canopy. The first (A) is a shallow pond characterized by luxuriant grassy plant growth and clear acidic waters. I did not observe any fish in this formation and it is unclear as to whether these ponds are temporary flooded sections of forests or semi-permanent. The second form of swamp pond (B) is deeper, muddier, and larger. We observed a
dwarf caiman (Palpebrosus trigonatus) in the pond which apparently feeds on fish, insects, and frogs suggesting that these formations are at least semi-permanent.

While water parameters were not tested, one could expect the pH and conductivity of these waters to be quite low.

Water current is very low, wood is present, and the substrate is either mud or clay. Lighting should be subdued.

Swamp pond pictures

Reference: Goulding M., Caas C., Barthem R., Forsberg B. and Ortega H. Amazon Headwaters - Rivers,Wildlife, and Conservation in Southeastern Peru. Eco News & Grafica Biblos. Lima, Peru. 2003