A journey with Ivan transcends writing and photography. Of course, he shows you where he is, through words and images. But that’s just an entrée. When I read his work, I’m carried into a full tactile experience. I feel the heat of substrate warming my feet. I hear the whoop and whistle of water dancing around rocks as it migrates permanently downstream. I feel Ivan’s adrenaline, the electric tension upon sighting a catfish lurking between rocks. I taste the air, heavy with chirruping bugs.

Conservation relies on empathy for what is being conserved. Empathy relies on communication. Ivan is one of nature’s great translators, communicating to the senses the very emotions of animals, plants, even the land. ‘We are here,’ they say through him. ‘We are here and we matter.’

In an age where many explorers are more interested in their own egos than the habitats they’re trespassing upon, it is a rare find to read discovery narratives tinged with an undercurrent of guilt. ‘I shouldn’t be here,’ Ivan suggests so often, so unwittingly in his work. ‘I shouldn’t be here, but I have to be.’

That is how you describe Ivan Mikolji. The man is a living documentary.

Nathan Hill
Associate Editor of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine, UK

Wild Aquarium

Wild Aquarium is a movement within the fish-keeping hobby which involves visiting an aquatic habitat such as a lake, river or stream and setting up a temporal aquarium in situ with the aim of mimicking the habitats seen on the spot. For the creation of a Wild Aquarium, only materials and animals collected from the specific habitat are used and are returned to their original setting once complete…. more

Formal description of the life color pattern of Pristobrycon Careospinus

This note is intended to formally describe the life color pattern of Pristobrycon careospinus Fink and Machado-Allison, 1992 and to give information on aspects of the habitat, and the ichthyofauna where the species was located.

Cleared and Stained

I consider myself a person who is always trying to think “beyond the aquarium.” I travel far to swim with rare fish, meet ichthyologists, collect rare voucher specimens and field data for science, but most of all I try to fuse my interest in the aquarium hobby with science and art. I have always also been a very curious and creative person, and as a youngster I channeled all my creativity towards creating small living worlds inside an aquarium. My curiosity lead me to read books about fish and art but I never thought or did not know how to blend all my interests together. I remember exactly when it suddenly dawned on me that there was a whole world out there that nobody talked about.  Typical aquarium books and pet shops were only the tip of the iceberg of the aquarium hobby. Anyways, that is a long story for another day. What I do want to show you is how incredible one of those “beyond the aquarium” places can be. …… more

Amazon Leaffish in the Wild

I turn my head left and see hundreds of cardinal tetras shoaling on the river bank. Small sections of my ears are raw due to many tetras, Copella and Anostomus that are constantly biting and nibbling on them. Even though their teeth are small, the mass number of them do damage to your skin, after days of snorkeling in their habitat. 

Scouting the area, I spot a good-looking, medium sized peacock bass swimming towards me. He is far enough to let me prepare for a possible amazing picture. I hyperventilate a bit and take a deep long breath. As I sink towards the river bottom, I relax my muscles and try to concentrate by ignoring the painful “skin peeling” going on in my ears. …… more

First Live Pictures of Pristobrycon careospinus

In the past 4 years swimming and fishing in most of the rivers in across Venezuela I noticed and was surprised that most of the rivers that I visited contained piranhas and every different river area seemed to have a different species.

There are 13 species of piranhas described for Venezuela. They all belong taxonomically to the Serrasalminae subfamily. The 13aa species are categorized in 4 Genera which are Pygopristis, Pristobrycon, Pygocentrus and Serrasalmus. The first 2 genera include piranhas who’s diets alternate protein and fruits. The last 2 are the most carnivorous, only including fruits in their diets in extreme cases of lack of pray. The protein piranhas find in the rivers mostly consist of scales of fish, fins of fish, fish as a whole and in special cases the carcass of any animal, mostly aquatic that has died or is to sick or old to escape the river before they can be bitten by a piranha…… more

Three Spotted Eartheaters in the wild

There are some fish that are more common than others in the wild. Satanoperca daemon are very common in most rivers south of the Apure River in Venezuela. The locals refer to them as Horse Face or Earth Suckers. In the aquarium hobby they are known as the Three Spotted Eartheaters; they get the name from the three black spots that can be seen on the sides of their bodies, two spots are found along the mid-line of the body and one spot in the caudal peduncle. To me S. daemon are simply magnificent. They are a living example of how a fish’s morphology and behavior adapt to fill specific niches and succeed in colonizing specific aquatic areas; in their case the benthos….. more

Green Neon Tetras in the Wild

“Good morning Ivan. Did you know that we have the best pineapples here in the Amazon?”

“Good morning Alipio, I did not know that. Let’s hurry before we miss the sunrise.”

With that brief exchange, we head off into the early hours of the morning. It’s 4:30am and still dark, warm and humid as it usually is in the Amazon State in Venezuela.

As we drive away from Alipio’s house we start to discuss what I want to accomplish with the day. … more

Oscar Cichlids in the Wild

Since 2006 I have been going to a very special spot in the Venezuelan llanos. This spot has clear water for a very short period of time in the rainy season. When I get there and start putting on my gear I start to get very impatient. I start to hurry, I dive in the water and start looking for some old friends, hoping they were not eaten by piranhas, crocs, or people since my last visit. I swim around, looking from side to side hoping they are still among the living. Once I spot them … more

Designation of a Neotype a Redescription of Serrasalmus nalseni 2009

Designación de neotipo y redescripción de Serrasalmus nalseni Fernández-Yépez, 1969 (Characiformes, Serrasalmidae)
Antonio Machado-Allison, William Fink, Ivan Mikolji y Alberto Marcano

Abstract: We present a redescription of Serrasalmus nalseni Fernández-Yépez, 1969, based on new specimens from the type locality. We include new morphometric and meristic data that allows us to thoroughly diagnose and describe this species, including its live color pattern. Because all type material is lost, we designate a neotype which has been deposited in the fish collection of the Museo de Biología of the Universidad Central de Venezuela along with several topotypes…. more

Blue Phantom Plecos L128 Hemiancistrus sp in the wild

We turn on our small flashlights and start walking upstream on the Orinoco river bank. It is 4:30 am and I know that I am going to document one of the most spectacular places on earth. Maria, Alipio and I are carrying the heavy photo gear, we are huffing and puffing as we walk over a sandy stretch. The dry, soft river sand sinks with our weight making it harder to walk. They follow behind me as I…. more

The Scarecory

I am standing in the middle of the creek, motionless. The sky is blue with no clouds and the sun is shining brightly. A soft tropical breeze is swaying the tree canopy which seems over 20 meters above. Boy, the trees are tall in this place.

I love the breeze.  It soothes you from the scorching heat and kind of deters some of the flying hematophagous insects. The only downside is that the same breeze that keeps flying insects away, gets you filled with what I call, kamikaze insects. These insects which live way up high in the densely, vegetated tree branches are knocked off in large amounts by the breeze. Trust me…. more

Ram Cichlids Mikrogeophagus ramirezi in the Wild

After During many years of investigating and exploring continental bodies of freshwater in Venezuela, I have run across a large number of cichlids; some being very rare in the aquarium hobby such as the Laetacara fulvipinnis and some that are very common as the Heros severus and the Mikrogeophagus ramirezi commonly called the Ram cichlids in…. more

The Link Between Science and Art

I am surrounded by piranhas, they are circling around me like vultures over a carcass. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I stick my head out of the water and see a flat plain, a vastness with nothing in it except clouds and Trachypogon grass. The savanna extends as far as your eyes can see. If something happens to me here, it will take a long time until somebody finds me. I am a river explorer, and this is my “studio.” I do not refer to what I do as work, because it is my passion…. more

Piranha Land

Prof. Antonio Machado-Allison, a world leading piranha expert, once told me, “Piranha is an indigenous name applied to some sort of fish that have the capacity or capability to eat meat.” So, before we get immersed into the piranha world, you have to keep in mind that the word “piranha” is not a scientific term, it is a common name whose terminology gets personalized by cultural influences.

To me, a piranha is a South American fish, in the Serrasalmidae family, with sharp teeth, should be able to bite me, and “look like” a…. more

Exploring a Morichal

George Fear and I drove down a narrow dirt road, north-west of the Paragua River, Bolivar state, Venezuela. We were scouting the area for new locations for underwater videography, back then in 2006, I wasn’t into underwater photography, yet.

Listening to Hank Williams Sr.’s old country tunes, we drove, for what seemed many hours without seeing another car or human. All of a sudden…. more

Apistogramma hongsloi Dwarf Cichlids in the Wild

I have been underwater in the same spot for more than an hour, over 500 images taken in the 3 square meters in front of me. I am in Mikoljiland or what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “The Flow.”

I start to hear a faint noise which breaks the underwater silence, I look around and notice it’s raining. I turn around and lie flat on my back on the river bed, looking up. I take an image of “underwater rain” or the pattern that rain creates when it strikes the water. The trees above make a super cool effect. I capture this brief moment in time that will never be again. I turn back to my kneeling position and keep on photographing, back in “the flow.” …. more

Green Dartfish Ammocryptocharax elegans in the Wild

I wish I was able to breath underwater. I wish I could stay here in the Green Tunnel; make time freeze. This is natural perfection. The Green Tunnel stretches as far as I can see in the underwater horizon. BryconsMoenkhausia, and other pelagic tetras swim past me and disappear in the distance as they go somewhere. Some come with the flow and some swim against it, up river. The long aquatic plant leaves sway from side to side with the strong water current. Everything is so…. more

Red Line Lizard Tetra Iguanodectes sp in the Wild

The legend says there is a half human creature which appears to people in the middle of nowhere, deep in the middle of the Venezuelan Amazonas jungle. Locals call it “The Primitive Man” and say that it is a bit smaller than a human, hairy and extremely aggressive. Outrunning it in the bush is impossible. His feet face backwards or to put it in another way, his heels face forwards, which give him a great running advantage…. more

Close Encounters of the Cichla Kind

If you could turn into a fish, which one would you choose to be? My first thought was an Altum Angelfish because it is one of my favorite fish but then I stopped and actually took the time to analyze this a bit better. Altum are extremely threatened in the wild, so it is not a good choice. Even though I also love Cardinal Tetras I definitely did not want to be one of those small fish that get eaten by most of the others; I definitely wanted to be on the top of the food chain. Next, I thought of piranhas, no, they sometimes…. more