ARK - Arizona Rivulin Keepers

Cynolebias whitei Is Alive in the Wild!


Brazil 1973 - Part II

by Allan L. Semeit

During my vacation in Brazil in July 1973, I had hoped to collect some of the rare annual killifish near Rio de Janeiro. Freshwater Fishes of the World by Gunther Sterba listed about a dozen species from this relatively small area, but only two were available in the hobby. Although I did manage to spend some time hunting for them, I must admit that I had poor luck.

The biggest reason for my failure was due to the season.  While it had been a very wet year in the interior, it had been a relatively dry year around Rio. Naturally, I arrived late in the dry season.

My first hint of these circumstances came when I spent a day collecting at the Federal Rural University at Campo Grande. Through a recommendation of Rosario LaCorte, I had gone to see Dr. Antenor de Carvalho at the National Museum in Rio.  Dr. Carvalho gave me the name of Dr. Eugenio Izecksohn, a professor at the university, who was studying Cynolebias species, and he offered to help me.

While we were collecting a variety of fish, notably Rivulus dorni, Dr. Izechsohn mentioned that normally Cynolebias ladigesi (now minimus) are quite common on and around the campus.  However, their biotopes were all dry because of the season.  He recommended that for annual killifish I try the Cabo Frio area which is normally wetter.

At the Federal Rural University, the area where we collected could be described as meadowland with thick stands of brush. In one of these stands was a narrow stream that appeared to be nothing but dead leaves, sticks, and a hint of water. The Brazilians used a “peneira” to collect in this stream. This device resembled a concrete shifter and was about a foot and a half in diameter.  The circular rim was wood and the strainer part was a stiff wire mesh of a quarter inch or less.  They would thrust the peneira into the water, push it forward and lift.  It was amazing to see what appeared. In the midst of those twigs and sticks, we found lots of small freshwater shrimp, Rivulus dorni, another Rivulus, possibly santensis, Callichthys catfish, a livebearer Poecilia vivipara and a small (6 inch) Hoplias that appeared to be a mouth full of fangs. You had to watch your fingers when sorting through the sticks.

After collecting, Dr. Izechsohn’s associate showed me a photo of a Cynolebias from the Sao Paulo area he was planning to describe.  It resembled C. melaneotaneia in shape but had vertical bright red and silver stripes.

During my stay in Rio, I was fortunate to meet a number of very generous people.  The greatest help they provided was transportation.  If you saw the way Brazilians drive, you would be very hesitant to get behind the wheel.  Unfortunately, I could not talk anyone into driving me the Cabo Fria area.

After spending a week trying to finagle transportation without success, I decided that the only way to reach Cabo Fria was to rent a car.  The trip involved a one-hour ferry ride from Rio across the bay to Niteroi and then a two-hour drive to San Pedro de Aldeia.  A major headache to driving in Brazil is the lack of roadsigns.  I managed to "get lost” several times, particularly in the Cabo Frio area.  There were two tips that I wanted to follow up.  Dr. Izechsohn had collected C. whitei previously and he had given me the location data.  Dr. Carvalho had mentioned that Cynolebias constanciae had once been collected in a cow pond at a resort just past the coastal town of Buzio.

Although I followed Dr. Izechsohn’s directions, I could not find any C. whitei. The reason may be due to the road construction along that stretch of the highway.   For posterity, the location was at Km 109 on the left side of the road as one heads towards Cabo Frio.

My other tip failed to pan out also. There were no roadsigns pointing out the way to Buzio.  On my first trip, all I managed to do was go in circles between the towns of San Pedro de Aldeia and Cabo Frio.  On my second trip, while collecting along a bumpy, dusty backroad, a bus went by with “Buzio” as its destination.  I finally found the town, but never did find a resort.  I collected in a number of cow ponds and drainage ditches finding only some tetras, drab livebearers, and large quantities of mosquito larvae.

As you might guess from the title of this article, my collecting attempts were not entirely fruitless. After getting lost on my first trip, I returned to the main highway and headed north from San Pedro de Aldeia toward Victoria. It was late afternoon. I collected in several ponds along the highway but found only tetras and livebearers.  Ten kilometers north of the Petro Bras gas station, at the junction of the main highway and the road to Cabo Frio, were two ponds. The one on the right side (as you drove north) was in a pasture and served as a watering hole. Here I found the usual tetras and livebearers.  The second pond on the left side was more of a swamp, appearing two to three feet deep and overgrown with reeds.  It was fairly small and the recent highway construction may have created it or changed the habitat as the road blocked the drainage.  I attempted to collect in this pond for about 15 minutes with no success. The weather was getting very windy and it was starting to rain.  I decided to make one last sweep before heading back to Rio and success! A female Cynolebias was caught in my net.  After intensive work over the next twenty minutes, I collected a total of ten female and three male Cynolebias whitei. At that point, my net broke and the weather persuaded me that it was time to start back to Rio.

Interestingly, the C.whitei were usually caught in the dense reeds, not in the open areas. Also, despite the late season, they were young adults.  The pH was 7.2 and as the swamp was on the uphill side of the highway, I don’t think there was much, or any, salinity in the water, despite being about ten miles or less from the coast.  The only other animal I collected in the swamp was an occasional water beetle.   Because of the nature of this habitat, I suspect that Cynolebias whitei will not become extinct in the wild in the near future.

This article is an expanded version of an article by the author originally printed in Journal of the American Killifish Association with Killie Note, April 1974.