My student group and I are waiting out one of the wettest Junes I’ve ever encountered in Ecuador. To date, we’ve aborted two major field excursions because of landslides. The mid-elevation, Amazonian gateway city of Zamorra is completely inaccessible from Loja. The street dogs are cultivating mobile gardens of green mold- they look like jacked-up sloths as they squelch down the avenue.
<-- Streets of Loja, AKA El Venice de los Vacas...
Time for my ‘fish of the month’ entry. See last month's if you're at all interested in Ling Cod.
One of our ongoing projects in Ecuador involved assessing baseline conditions along a stream system in a Shuar community. The Shuar are an indigenous people- unfortunately most famous for head-shrinking***… but currently noteworthy for being very, very good stewards of some large tracts of mid-Amazonian forests.
*** see the end of this blog entry for some commentary on this
It was lush on the palette, to say the least. Of course, I wanted to know what I was eating. The local guys (including César, a community leader who was working on an environmental science degree) kept rhapsodizing about something called a ‘Corroncho’.
Naturally a bit confused, I asked the guys to draw a picture (half expecting to see an image of Enrique Iglesias emerge from the dust). Instead, I saw something that I recognized immediately as an old friend.
Who hasn’t seen one of these dudes rasping the scum off someone’s aquarium glass? An old girlfriend of mine had one that was a foot long lurking in a five gallon aquarium…
· Pleco's are not ugly.
· I love my Pleco i think they are lush…
· UGLY animals?!? I happen to think that Plecos are among the most magnificent, beautiful, handsome (or shall I say finsome?) creatures I've ever observed...or owned/befriended! I ADORE them!! 8-D
I lean towards the ‘handsome’ side of the continuum. Look at those patterns! Tiger-like mottlings in shades of amber. Look at that arcing, magnificent dorsal fin. You can see where the Columbian usage of ‘corroncho’ may have originated. That’s one flamboyant fish. Should look good on a planter, once I get back from Ecuador and back into the studio.
The Shuar trap them using woven cane traps- Plecos (or ‘corronchos’ as I’ll call them from here out) are essentially vegans, rendering hook and line useless. Myth has it that vegans 'taste funny', but the Shuar prefer the taste of corroncho to trout, to tilapia, to anything they’re familiar with in mid-elevation Amazonia. Do they recognize the beauty? You’d better believe it… although no-one ever looks at a fish the same way after they’ve de-boned and devoured it.
The Shuar guys that other told me that other nearby rivers (where the gravel has been stripped to the nub) are effectively corroncho-free. You could definitely see a qualitative difference between El Qiim and the next river southwards. The Qiim looked drinkable, the other river had a greasy cast.
(Really… can we get this gold fixation out of our species level DNA? It’s not doing anything or anyone any good).
Interestingly, Hypostomus plecostomus has become an invasive nuisance in Florida, where people keep dumping them into toilets and drainage ditches. Florida is currently ground zero for focused Darwinism… escapés from all over the world duking it out. The snakeheads are looking like winners at the moment (that’s a future entry)… but don’t rule the corronchos out.
“I came down here to catch tilapia. But the pleco wins, hands down.”
So- corronchos may be ecological victim, ecological villain, hor d'oeuvres, or pet depending on your perspective. Whatever the case may be, I’ll never be able to see one of those sucker-mouths kissing glass without experiencing flashbacks to twilight on El Qiim, and the smell of whitewater racing towards the Amazon.