Cichlids in the Rio Puerto Viejo: The Fishes

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Updated: June 21, 2001


Overview of the Fishes

The fish fauna of the Rio Puerto Viejo consists of ten cichlids, various characins and livebearers, and a few other miscellaneous fishes.

For most groups of organisms, a given piece of the tropics contains much higher biodiversity than a similarly-sized area in the temperate zone. This isn't true for fishes. Why, we do not know. That is not to say there aren't interesting fishes in the rivers at La Selva, only that there aren't a huge number of species.

The relatively low number of species makes it possible for a researcher to learn to identify many of them. On the other hand, unlike birds which display a species-specific color pattern, each of the fish species are highly variable in appearance, both between individuals and within an individual according to its activity, breeding status, etc. The cichlids in particular change color on a second-by-second basis.

Bussing (1984) lists 43 specis of fishes at La Selva. Some of these are either extremely rare, e.g. the bull shark, or highly transitory. Many are cryptic to the point that though I have made 5 trips to La Selva, for a total of over 3 months of daily censuses, I have yet to see a single specimen. For example, I have never seen a catfish, knifefish or shark.

Other species are very common. The Mexican tetra Astyanax fasciatus is abundant. Of the cichlids, seven are common, but Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is rare. I have never seen a rainbow cichlid Herotilapia multispinosa, nor Parachromis loisellei, though the latter is easily confused with Parachromis dovii.

Livebearers are locally abundant, but are frequently found in mixed-species groups along the shore, making identification difficult.

As far as I know, only two specimens of the pipefish have been found at La Selva -- I found one.

The synbranchid eel (swamp eel) is found in the swamp, and occasionally, on wet nights, on the ground attempting to move between water bodies.

I have seen gobies, but only a few. They are cryptically colored (sandy) so it is possible that there are many more than I have seen.


The Cichlids

There are at least eight species of cichlids in the Rio Puerto Viejo, at its confluence with the Rio Sarapiqui. Bussing (1994) also lists Herotilapia multispinosa and Parachromis loisellei as being present, though I have not seen them. For more information on each species, click on the images below.

 Archocentrus septemfasciatus female Astatheros alfari female Astatheros rostratus male

Hypsophrys nicaraguense female Neetroplus nematopus pair Tomocichla tuba female

Parachromis dovii female    




Miscellaneous Fishes



List of fishes found at La Selva

according to Bussing (1994)


Family Species Common Name Occurence
Carcharinidae   sharks  
  Carcharhinus leucas shark ext. rare
  Tarpon atlanticus tarpon rare
Characidae   tetras  
  Astyanax fasciatus   common
  Bramocharax bransfordi    
  Brycon guatamalensis machaca common
  Bryconamericus scleroparius    
  Carlana eigenmanni    
  Hyphessobrycon tortuguerae    
  Roeboides guatemalensis    
Gymnotidae   knifefishes  
  Gymnotis cylindricus   ext. rare
Pimelodidae   catfishes  
  Rhamdia guatemalensis   ext. rare
  Rhamdia nicaraguensis   ext. rare
  Rhamdia rogersi   ext. rare
Gobiesocidae   clingfishes  
  Gobiesox nudus   rare
Rivulidae   killifishes  
  Rivulus isthmensis    
Poeciliidae   livebearers  
  Alfaro cultratus    
  Brachyrhaphis holdridgei    
  Brachyrhaphis parismina   common
  Neoheterandria umbratilis    
  Phallichthys amates    
  Phallichthys tico    
  Poecilia gilli    
  Priapichthys annectens    
Atherinidae   silversides  
  Atherinella hubbsi    
Syngnathidae   pipefishes  
  Pseudophallus mindii   rare
Synbranchidae swamp eels  
  Synbranchus marmoratus    
Cichlidae   cichlids  
  Archocentrus nigrofasciatus convict  
  Archocentrus septemfasciatus    
  Astatheros alfari    
  Astatheros rostratus    
  Herotilapia multispinosa rainbow rare
  Hypsophrys nicaraguensis    
  Neetroplus nematopus    
  Parachromis dovii guapote  
  Parachromis loisellei guapotilo rare
Tomocichla tuba tuba  
Mugulidae   mullets  
  Agonostomus monicola    
  Joturus pichardi bobo  
Haemulidae   grunts/croakers   
  Pomadasys croco croaker  
Centropomidae   snook  
  Centropomus undecimalis snook  
Eleotridae   sleeper gobies  
  Gobiomorus dormitor    
Gobiidae   gobies  
  Awaous tajasica    
  Sicydium altum chupapiedra  


The key reference for fishes in Costa Rica is the following book by William Bussing:

Bussing, W.A. 1998. Peces de las aguas continentales de Costa Rica: Freshwater fishes of Costa Rica. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica

[this volume contains both the English and Spanish text]


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