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Related FAQs: Larger Pencilfishes,

Related Articles: Characiform FishesSmall Pencils (family Lebiasinidae),

/The Conscientious Aquarist, /A Diversity of Aquatic Life

The Larger Pencilfishes, Headstanders,  family Anostomidae,  In Aquariums

Bob Fenner

Anostomus anostomus


This family contains some of the most readily recognized (though not universally loved) freshwater aquarium fishes; the larger Pencilfishes and Headstanders. They bear characteristically small, apical to upturned mouths that are small and non-protractile. Most have elongated bodies with a short anal and dorsal fins. Pencilfishes often orient their bodies at oblique angles... the Headstanders go over even further, often angled at more than forty five degrees, some, greater than 90 at times.

    A few of these species make good "medium" community additions... but many are suitable only for the very roughest company... Way too many fishes fins, bodies and eyes will be damaged today by being mis-matched with some anostomids.

Two Subfamilies: the subfamily Anostominae (ten genera, about 105 species) includes the larger Pencilfishes and most of the Headstanders. The Chilodontinae, with two genera, five species, are occasionally seen as the Headstander genus Chilodus.

Abramites hypselonotus (Gunther 1868), the Marbled Headstander. South America; Rio Orinoco, Rio Amazonas, Rio Paraguay and Rio Parana basins. To nearly six inches in length.  Conds.: pH 6-7.5, dH to 18, temp. 23-27 C. 

Anostomus anostomus (Linnaeus 1758), the Striped Headstander. South America; Amazon, Orinoco, Guyana. To a bit over six inches in length. Cond.s: pH 6-8, dH 5-12, temp. 22-28 C. In the wild eats worms, crustaceans, insects and plant material. Can be a mean fish nipping tankmate to peaceful tankmates.

Chilodus punctatus Muller & Troschel 1844, the Spotted Headstander. South America; Amazon and Guyana. To four inches in length. Cond.s: pH 6-7, dH to 10, temp. 24-28 C. One of the more mellow, medium community tank Headstander species. 

Leporinus fasciatus (Bloch 1794), the Banded Leporinus. South America; Oceania (introduced elsewhere). To one foot in length. Cond.s: pH 5.5-7.5, dH to 20, temp. 22-26 C. A beautiful fish amongst many in the Pencilfish group of Characoids, but one that can/does become an unholy terror in the presence of unaware or slow fish tankmates. 

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Leporinus striatus Kner 1858, the Striated Pencilfish. South America; most eastern countries. To ten inches in length. Cond.s temp. 22-26 C. Mean when large and toward conspecifics. 


Bibliography/Further Reading:


ADI Staff. Undated. Headstanders for the home aquarium. ADI #54. 


Anon. 1975. Cigar-shaped Characins. ADI 3:1, 75.


Donovan, Paul. 1997. The family Anostomidae. TFH 8/97.


Fehrs, Jens Peter. 1976. Community tank for Headstanders. ADI 4:1, 76.


Geisler, Rolf. 1959. Spawning Chilodus punctatus. TFH 8/59.


Walker, Braz. 1969. A real oldtimer (Anostomus anostomus). The Aquarium 6/69.


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