Colossoma macropomum
Colossoma macropomum
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Colossoma macropomum (Cuvier, 1816)

Common name: tambaqui

Synonyms and Other Names: Colossoma nigripinne (Cope 1878), C. oculus (Cope 1872); pacu.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Machado-Allison (1982) revised the group and provided information for identification. Many synonyms exist; C. oculus and C. nigripinne are junior synonyms commonly used in the aquarium literature and in past reports on United States nonindigenous fishes. Colossoma taken in United States waters also have been misidentified as red piranhas Pygocentrus nattereri or as one of the other pacus: red-bellied pacu Piaractus brachypomus or small-scaled pacu Piaractus mesopotamicus. Species descriptions provided by Machado-Allison (1982) and Britski (1977). For photographs, see Géry (1977, p. 255, misidentified as C. brachypomum = Piaractus brachypomus), Goulding (1980), Machado-Allison (1982), and Araujo-Lima and Goulding (1997). Ruiz-Carus and Davis (2003) presented diagnostic characteristics to distinguish this genus from the similar genus, Piaractus.

Size: 90 cm SL and 30 kg (Goulding and Carvalho 1982)

Native Range: Tropical America. Native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America (Machado-Allison 1982; Araujo-Lima and Goulding 1997).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: A single fish, tentatively identified as C. nigripinnis, was taken from the Sacramento River in California, near Elkhorn Ferry above Sacramento in Yolo County, on 10 October 1977 (Brittan and Grossman 1979). Two fish, originally misidentified as 'piranha', were taken by anglers from the San Joaquin River near Fresno. A single fish was collected from Mission Creek, Santa Barbara County, on 2 November 1999 (museum specimen). A single fish was taken from Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida, on 12 January 1983 (museum specimen); one fish (identified as Colossoma nigripinne) was collected from Waverly Pond in Tallahassee, Leon County, on 13 October 1968 (Courtenay et al. 1974; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; museum specimen); one fish (270 mm TL) was collected from Diversion Canal C-24, near Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, on 11 December 1988 (J.D. Williams, personal observation; specimen not retained); two fish were collected from Green Pond on the University of Florida campus in 2001 (Hill and Cichra 2005); a specimen was collected in the Pompano Beach area in Broward County (International Game Fishing Association 2000); two fish were observed in Blue Spring State Park, Volusia County, on 20 April 2004; an angler captured a single fish in Deer Point Lake, Bay County, on 2 August 2010 (Lindsey 2010). A single specimen was caught in a south Miami canal in 1982 (Museum specimen). Because this species is commonly kept as a pond fish in south Florida, it is likely that some specimens have escaped from captivity into natural waters. The first report in Hawaii was of a 3.2-kg adult fish taken in Wahiawa Reservoir, a 350-acre, privately owned irrigation reservoir on Oahu, in 1987; several other large adult pacus, possibly members of this same species, have been caught or seen in recent years, but no juveniles have been taken (Devick 1991, 1992). One fish was sighted in Nuuanu #3 Reservoir, Oahu (Devick 1991). Specimens have been collected in a pond on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus and in Kailua Canal, Oahu (Mundy 2005). Several specimens were collected in Fall River, Kansas in 1999 (museum specimens). A single fish was taken with a hook and line from Triphammer Pond in Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, on 22 August 1993 (Cardoza et al. 1993; Hartel et al. 1996). A single specimen was collected, and two more observed, from Old Fort Bayou near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on 20 September 1995 (Ross 2001). A single fish was taken by an angler from the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska, on 27 September 1999. Several fishes were taken from the Schenectady and Amsterdam region of the Mohawk River, New York, in the early 1990s (T. Preddice, pers. comm.). There are several records of single fish taken from various sites in Texas including Forests Lake near Longview, Gregg County, on 30 July 1988; Eagle Point, a coastal area (with water salinity of about 10 PSU) near Houston, Harris County, in August 1988; and Branch Creek near Port Arthur, Jefferson County, on 25 May 1990 (Howells et al. 1991). One fish was collected in Silver Lake, Washington in 1994 (museum specimen)

Tambaqui have also established in several ponds and reservoirs in Puerto Rico (F. Grana, pers. comm.)

Ecology: Colossoma macropomum is the second largest scaled fish in the Amazon River basin. Tambaqui are omnivorous, and possess a unique combination of molariform teeth and elongated gillrakers that allow exploitation of both nuts/seeds and zooplankton as food resources (Goulding and Carvalho 1982). Tambaqui migrate seasonally between whitewater rivers and inundated floodplain forests during low and high water periods, respectively. Spawning occurs in whitewater rivers during the beginning of the high water season, with larval and immature fishes entering floodplain forests and lakes (Goulding and Carvalho 1982).

Means of Introduction: All introductions were probably aquarium releases.

Status: Possibly established in Puerto Rico. Reported, but failed, in California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Texas.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown.

Remarks: Pacus are popular as aquarium fish. They are esteemed as food fish in South America, with large fisheries based around seasonal spawning movements and aggregations (Goulding and Carvalho 1982). Most U.S. records represent collections of single fish taken by anglers. The Massachusetts fish was originally reported to be a red-bellied pacu in a newspaper account and as a Colossoma sp. by Cardoza et al. (1993); the fish was later determined to be C. macropomum by W. Fink, based on a photograph of the specimen (Hartel, personal communication). Some specimens previously identified as C. macropomum and taken in Florida waters may very well represent hybrid forms produced by artificial means using Colossoma and Piaractus parents (L.G. Nico, personal observations).

Voucher specimens: California (CAS 76474; SBMNH 1460); Florida (UF 65748, 97061, 119599); Florida (UF 65748, 96235, 97061, 116291, 119599); Mississippi (MMNS 31259); Oregon (OS 13217); Washington (UW 025858).

References: (click for full references)

Araujo-Lima, C., and M. Goulding. 1997. So fruitful a fish: conservation biology of the Amazon's tambaqui. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.

Britski, H. 1977. Sobre o género Colossoma (Pisces-Characidae). Suplemento Ciencia y Cultura, Brasil, 29(7):810.

Brittan, M.R., and G.D. Grossman. 1979. A pacu (Colossoma, family Characidae) caught in the Sacramento River. California Fish and Game 65(3):170-173.

Cardoza, J.E., G.S. Jones, T.W. French, and D.B. Halliwell. 1993. Exotic and translocated vertebrates of Massachusetts, 2nd edition. Fauna of Massachusetts Series 6. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Publication 17223-110-200-11/93-C.R, Westborough, MA.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley, II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Devick, W.S. 1991. Patterns of introductions of aquatic organisms to Hawaiian freshwater habitats. Pages 189-213 in new directions in research, management and conservation of Hawaiian freshwater stream ecosystems. Proceedings of the 1990 symposium on freshwater stream biology and fisheries management, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Devick, W.S. 1992. The great piranha hunt. Hawaii Fishing News 17(10)6-7.

Géry, J. 1977. Characoids of the world. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Goulding, M. 1980. Fishes of the forest: explorations in Amazonian natural history. University of California Press, Los Angeles, CA.

Goulding, M., and M.L. Carvalho. 1982. Life history and management of the tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum, Characidae): an important Amazonian food fish. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 1(2):107-133.

Hartel, K. Ichthyology Department, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Hartel, K.E., D.B. Halliwell, and A.E. Launer. 1996. An annotated working list of the inland fishes of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, Cambridge, MA. Page accessed March 5, 1998.

Hill, J.E., and C.E. Cichra. 2005. Eradication of a reproducing population of convict cichlids, Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum (Cichlidae), in north-central Florida. Florida Scientist 68: 65-74.

Howells, R.G., R.L. Benefield, and J.M. Mambretti. 1991. Records of pacus (Colossoma spp.) and piranhas (Serrasalmus spp.) in Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Management Data Series 70, Austin, TX.

Lindsey, S. 2010. Outdoor life: at least if wasn't a piranha. The News Herald. Created on 08/02/2010. Accessed on 08/10/2010.

Logan, D. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.

Machado-Allison, A. 1982. Estudio sobre la subfamilia Serrasalminae (Teleostei, Characidae). Prte 1. Estudio comparado de los juveniles de las "cachamas" de Venezuela (generos Colossoma y Piaractus). Acta Biologica Venezuelica 11(3):1-101.

Mundy, B.C. 2005. Checklist of fishes of the Hawiian Archipelago. Bishop Museum Bulletin in Zoology, Number 6.

Ross, S.T. 2001. The inland fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS.

Ruiz-Carus, R., and S.B. Davis. 2003. Register of an exceptionally large redbellied pacu, Piaractus brachypomus (Teleostei, Characidae), in east-central Florida, with gonad and diet analyses. Florida Scientist 66(3):184-188.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 10/22/2013

Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Colossoma macropomum (Cuvier, 1816): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 10/22/2013, Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016, Access Date: 3/22/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/22/2018].

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