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/The Conscientious Aquarist, /A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Distichodus and More, family Citharinidae,  In Aquariums


Bob Fenner

Distichodus sexfasciatus

The family Citharinidae includes the genus Distichodus; African. This family of fishes is characterized by internal characteristics and dentition. Twenty genera, about 100 species. Two subfamilies (Distchodontinae, Citharinae), but almost all the pet-fish trade sees in the West are a few members of the genus Distichodus.

Distichodus affinis Gunther 1873, the Silver Distichodus. Central Africa; central and lower Zaire. To eight inches total length. Aquarium photo of a four inch individual.

Distichodus lusosso Schilthuis 1891, the Long-Nose or Lusosso Distichodus. Central Africa; the Zaire Basin. To fifteen inches. Here in the London Aquarium.

Distichodus sexfasciatus Boulenger 1897, the Sixbar Distichodus. Central Africa; middle, lower Congo in Zaire and Lake Tanganyika. To thirty inches in length in the wild... about half that in captivity. Shown: juveniles of about three inches and a sub-abult of about seven. 


The African fin-eating tetras  (Excerpted from: Extreme Characins Part 2: Wolves, vampires, and other horrors by Neale Monks)    

Also known as the African pike-characins, the genera Belonophago, Paraphago, and Phago are fascinating subjects for the aquarist after a bizarre predatory characin but without the space to accommodate something like a school of vampire-tetras. They are all fairly small animals, and none is terribly active. The smallest species are in the genus Belonophago and around 10 cm/4" when fully grown; the remaining species are about half as big again. Apart from size differences, telling the species apart isn't easy as they are all pretty similar. They have a slender, pike-shape and distinctive tail fins that bear striking horizontal black bands. These fish are fairly cryptic in their colouration, being silvery green with some sort of mottling or banding along the body and on the fins. Given the choice, these fish prefer to stay hidden among the shadows than in open water, and just like our own native pike, these fish are stealth predators that will snap at any suitably sized prey, from aquatic insects through to smaller fish.

While there are many predatory characins, these fish are unusual in having scissor-like upper and lower jaws that can easily snip the fins off fish too large to swallow whole. Obviously, since they will eat small fish whole and large fish a bit a time, African pike-characins cannot be easily mixed with other fish, though heavily armoured catfish such as doradids and loricariids might be an option.

African pike-characins are members of the characin family Citharinidae, of which there are numerous species offered more or less regularly to aquarists. Most make excellent aquarium fish. Nannaethiops unitaeniatus is sometimes sold as the African glowlight tetra, an allusion to the attractive coppery band running along the flanks of this fish that gives it a superficial resemblance to the popular glowlight tetra from South America, Hemigrammus erythrozonus. The African glowlight is a peaceful, schooling species that gets to about 6 cm/2.5" long and does best in a quiet, well-planted aquarium with soft, slightly acidic water. At the other end of the size spectrum is Distichodus sexfasciatus, a large, deep-bodied characin that has, at least when young, the same brilliant orange and black colouration of the clown loach and tiger barb. Adults can potentially reach over 70 cm/27" in length, though aquarium specimens rarely get to even half that size. Adults are also somewhat less colourful than the juveniles, though attractive fish nonetheless. These fish omnivores, and will as readily eat lettuce and peas, as they will bloodworms and brine shrimp. Needless to say, they will demolish a plant aquarium in no time at all.

Bibliography/Further Reading: 

Castro, Al. 1998. Some are not nice (in answering a hobbyist's queries re the genus Distichodus). AFM 9/98.

Lewis, Peter. 1996. The Distichodids; Experiences with a tribe of the characin family. AFM 3/96.

Walker, Braz. 1969. The distant Distichodus. The Aquarium 10/69.

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