The order of "Silverside" fishes Atheriniformes contains a mix of fishes spanning two suborders and three-four families that are commonly called Rainbowfishes (though some folks would leave out, gladly, the Betodiidae of Madagascar... the Blue Eyes...) Though a handful of these species have been employed as ornamentals for the last few decades, only until the nineties did many new forms make their "splash"... becoming the "Gouramis" of their time (and now!) in terms of popularity. This status is well-deserved. These fishes are lively, beautiful (well, most of them, as adults, in good health...), hardy, and actually enjoy the all-too-typical hard and alkaline water that many folks are faced with as mains/tap supply.
Hmm, let's see, most atheriniforms have two separate dorsal fins. Their lateral lines are either absent completely or very weak in appearance. Some other arcane internal features could be mentioned (see Nelson). Let's mention the peculiarity of their larval gut lengths... they're short. Some indication of their need for continuous feeding, and slow rates of growth as/when young. Eight families comprising forty seven genera, 285 or so species. Some of all three suborders of the Order Atheriniformes, four families and more than a hundred species bear the common moniker "Rainbowfish"... though to science, the Family Melanotaeniidae are THE Rainbows.
The Pet-fish named Rainbowfishes: Commonly encountered species
Family Bedotiidae: The Madagascar "Rainbowfishes". All freshwater. two genera, about nine species.
Family Melanotaeniidae: The true Rainbowfishes. Mostly freshwater, some brackish. Tropical and subtropical Australia, New Guinea. Six genera, about eighty-five species.
Genus Chilatherina: Nine species.
Genus Glossolepis: Seven species.
Genus Iriatherina: One species.
Genus Melanotaenia: Forty two species, four subspecies recognized.
Family Pseudomugilidae: The Blue Eyes: Brackish and freshwater. New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia. Three genera (Kiunga, Pseudomugil, Scaturiginichthys), about fifteen species.
Suborder Atherinoidei: Five families. Many important foodfishes... Grunion...
Family Telmatherinidae: The Sailfin Silversides or Celebes Rainbowfishes. Fresh, brackish, marine. Sulawesi and New Guinea. Five genera, seventeen species.
About Brackish Rainbows:
Most notably the Celebes (Marosatherina (Telmatherina) ladigesi), Madagascar (Bedotia geayi), Red New Guinea (Glossolepis incisus) and many of the Rainbows of the genus Melanotaenia (e.g. the Queensland, M. maccullochi and Australian, M. fluviatilis) do much better with a modicum of salt (spg of 1.005) in their water, though they can live in straight freshwater.
Collection of your own specimens is a life long dream of many "Bow" aficionados. I have a few friends who have made sojourns to New Guinea and Australia in pursuit of the ultimate experience. To live where their favorite fishes come from. This is assuredly hard work, let me assure you.
Most folks settle for buying captive-produced stocks out of the Far East (mainly Hong Kong and Singapore), though there are excellent sources in Germany, elsewhere in Western Europe and many breeders in the United States. You can find these commercial interests on the Internet, through national hobby magazines, and they and other hobbyist suppliers through a few clubs, bulletins and "user-groups" on the Web (see biblio. below). There are a few to several species that are so popular that larger, better-stocked retail livestock fish stores carry them as well.
System size is important. "Bigger is better" of course, with the smaller species being able to be kept in small numbers in twenty gallon plus aquariums. Larger species of real Rainbows in groups call for forty gallon plus volumes; the largest species need a hundred gallons and more to look, be their best in a school.
Live plants should be a given when considering, stocking these fishes. For all the many benefits they are, food, cover, oxygen generators, waste consumers, do have live plants with your Rainbows. Simple types like Vallisnerias, Sagittarias, Ceratopteris (Water Sprites) will do, though there are many, many other choices. For casual breeders who don't want to utilize yarn "mops" to collect eggs, Java Moss (Vesicularia), Hornwort/Coontail (Ceratophyllum), Foxtail/Milfoil (Myriophyllum) can be considered. I strongly suggest the addition/mixing of a clay-type soil in the lower level/s of your substrate to boost plant growth.
Lighting to suit the plants in intensity, quality and duration is fine for these fishes as well. Some sunlight being allowed to reach the tank, even indirectly is encouraged. You may not believe it (till experience changes your mind), but these fishes do actually bask (sunbathe if you must) in sunlight.
As a group, the true and not-so Rainbowfishes are very adaptable, coping in a wide range of water qualities. For most species temperature, hardness and pH of 24-26 C. (75-79 F.), dH of 6-10 and neutral pH (near 7) are ideal, but values about these numbers are fine (though species of Iriatherina and Rhadioncentrus prefer pH's in the 5.5-6.8 area... and some Pseudomugils do better at elevated temperatures.), and more important is stability all the way around. The vast majority of tap-waters are fine used as is (dechlorinated/dechloraminated of course) for regular (weekly) partial (10-20%) water changes. The immediate increased activity and color of specimens concurrent with this maintenance are appreciable.
A note to those who feel or have an actual need to modify their Rainbowfishes water chemistry. If you're adding salt, changing pH or hardness overtly, do so in advance of using such water in a separate storage container. This stored, pre-made new water is best kept in a designated container, near the main/display system with its own pump (to circulate, transfer the water) and heater. These are far from "touchy" fish species, but this simple arrangement and practice does a myriad of "goods".
Gary.L input: "Water changes. Rainbowfish REALLY like water changes. I typically perform 50% water changes on my fish (weekly suggested but at least 1x every 2 weeks) and they really enjoy this. 10-20% weekly changes really just doesn't get the job done. Hardness, pH On the GH side anywhere between 100 ppm - 250 is fine for them. Harder is ok too but they get tougher to breed and the eggs sometimes don't hatch at the higher hardness values. On the KH end I feel that it is extremely important to get at least 3-4 degrees of carbonate hardness here. If you have softer water supplement it by adding baking soda, sodium bicarbonate. In my water a tablespoon in ~ 55 gallons increases by about 1 degree KH. pH bounce is something that really stresses rainbowfish and if present can cause them to get TB. Most of the rainbowfish people have pretty well discounted the other wasting diseases. TB is not easy to test for but when it has been done - skin ulcers, mouth ulcers, bloating (shot kidneys) and wasting have all been positive for TB."
To a one, these fishes can be considered "community" species (though some quite large at adult size), getting along with others of their kind and other fish life. If their accompanying tankmates can stand the Rainbows rapid, continuous swimming behavior there is a good chance they'll all get along fine.
Male-male displays, particularly in situations where there are disproportionate numbers of males to few females, may become heated at times, but rarely result in real injury. The general rules of careful observation of your livestock, under-crowding, providing plenty of cover for sub-dominant individuals applies here to prevent damage, losses.
These are schooling species. They live in groups that may total only a handful of individuals to dozens. They will only do and show their best maintained in numbers in large enough systems to allow their shoaling behavior. Good-sized volume of system and presence of their kind will virtually eliminate any ill-effects of aggression amongst them. About equal sex-ratios work well in most settings.
Given healthy specimens, and pre-set water conditions, a cycled system with live plants, acclimating these fishes is a breeze. Some ready mixing of water from the main system, either through a drip approach or periodic ladling, will do to ready them for placement.
Breeding these fishes is a fun/trying, easy/hard enterprise. Fun and easy because so many species do readily spawn in a wide range of conditions; trying and hard for the one-at-a-time egg-laying/fertilization process and seemingly slow progress of growth of their young. The sexes are easily told apart as they mature by the males larger size, more flowing unpaired fins and better coloration.
You will know by their intense coloration, rapid swimming, forays into plant thickets, fin extension that your Rainbows are breeding. The small (1-2 mm) eggs are hard to make out (use a bright, focused flashlight), hatch out in 5-12 days (depending on species, temperature), and may be consumed by their parents (commercial breeders remove the spawning medium or parents). Small live foods like rotifers and brine shrimp nauplii, microworms are of use as first foods and lesser so, dried prepared foods of small size.
Commercial, large-scale production methods vary... some folks separating males, females for conditioning... others leaving out spawning media in the breeders bare tanks when they don't want them breeding. There are folks who utilize ponds, large tanks and move spawning materials with eggs on a semi-continuous basis to optimize yields. Some friends of mine in the industry use nothing in their water to prevent fungusing of eggs, other writers swear by the addition of methylene blue, acriflavine for this purpose. If you are interested into delving into these controversies, peruse the literature cited below (there is much more).
About Crosses: Please don't do or Sponsor this!
All of these fishes readily accept all forms of foods, live, dry, freeze-dried, frozen/defrosted that are small enough to be taken in their small mouths. Do study their natural food choice/habits (e.g on fishbase.org) and try to provide them with some live foods everyday. Mosquito, Glassworm (Chironomid) larvae, brine shrimp, Daphnia, wingless fruit flies, small worms, even ants are consumed greedily by most species. Take care to provide foods in small quantities over an extended period of time (minutes) for these fishes, as most are "surface" feeders.
Some authors cite once daily feedings as being adequate. I prefer two, three small feedings for color, growth and encouraging foraging behavior.
Hunter (1997) emphasizes the use of greenery in these fishes diets. He states that supplying zucchini (without the rind) as an adjunct to ensuring good spawning success.
Though not widely regarded as a disease per se, senescence and death by "old age" is a factor of interest in husbandry of all life. Small species in these families can be expected to live 2-3 years, larger ones perhaps 4-8 years in captivity. You may well want to acquire your specimens at sub-adult sizes/ages to assure having and breeding them a good long while.
These fishes can contract and succumb to parasitic diseases, though they are amongst the last fish groups to do so in terms of order or susceptibility. Happily, correcting the root causes of such infestations, treatment with standard approaches is efficacious.
There is an "environmental" infectious (bacterial) condition/disease that at times has reached pandemic proportions. This "Rainbowfish Disease" shows as a rapid onset degeneration of body scales, flesh. Hammer (1996) writes of his successful trials with the antibiotic Ceftin (Cefuroxime axetil). Quarantine (two weeks), care in selecting healthy specimens, providing optimized and stable appropriate habitats and feeding will likely spare you from exposure to this complaint.
So it goes for this brief expose of these closely-related families. Bored with a general community aquarium mix? Not up to the hectic scramblings of African Cichlids? No desire for a big, ugly eat-em-up specimen tank? Not ready, desirous of delving into marines, but want fishes just as beautiful? Do consider the Rainbowfishes, real and not. They're hardy as freshwater fishes come, interesting to a fault, fun, even possibly profitable to breed and raise, and gorgeous and interesting in body shape, finnage and color.
Friends Kent Webster and Jorge Sanchez (Sahul Aquatics) of California for help in identifying my photographs of these fishes, general input and camaraderie.
Allen, Gerald R. 1978. The Rainbowfishes of Northwestern Austrailia. TFH 6/78.
Allen, Gerald R. 1981. Central highlands Rainbows from Papua New Guinea, with descriptions of two new species (Melanotaeniidae). TFH 1/81.
Allen, Gerald R. & Norbert J. Cross. 1982. Rainbowfishes of Australia and Papua New Guinea. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 141pp.
Bleher, Heiko. 1984. Mysterious Rainbowfish, pts 1,2. TFH 3,5/84.
Castro, Alfred D. 1995. They're Rainbows. Not always easy to find, but well worth the effort. pts 1,2 AFM 6,7/95.
Hammer, Harvey M. 1996. Rainbowfish- disease and treatment. FAMA 6/96.
Hunter, Roy. 1997. Rainbowfish (sic), from nature to your aquarium. AFM 6/97.
Hunziker, Ray. 1992. Keeping and breeding Rainbowfishes. TFH 10/92.
Jackson, Andy. 1987. Rainbows: the next big thing? FAMA 12/87.
Kirtley. Paul T. 1986. Spawning Rainbowfishes made simple. TFH 10/86.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.
Reed, Mike. 1999. They call them "Bows". TFH 5/99.
Tappin, Adrian R. 1993. The Rainbow revolution. FAMA 5/93.
Taylor, Edward C. 1982. In search of Rainbows, pts 1-4. TFH 3,4,7,10/82.
Taylor, Edward C. 1999. Over the Rainbows. Pet Business 1/99.
Palicka, Jiri. 2000. Species profile: Bedotia geayi. TFH 2/2000.
Siegl, W. 1960. A new fish for all- Bedotia geayi. TFH 6/60.
Taylor, Edward C. 1982. The Madagascar Rainbow Bedotia geayi. FAMA 6/82.
Van Camp, Sally. 1987. Spawning Bedotia geayi, an unconventional way. FAMA 4/87.
Allen, Gerald R. 1980. Chilatherina axelrodi, a new species of Rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae) from Papua New Guinea. TFH 1/80.
Allen, Gerald R. 1984. Boeseman's Rainbowfish- the pearl of Irian Jaya. TFH 2/84.
Armstrong, Neil. 1983. Spawning Melanotaenia herbertaxelrodi, the Lake Tebera Rainbowfish. TFH 3/83.
Franco, Phillip S. 1969. Breeding the Rainbowfish (M. mccullochi). The Aquarium 7/69.
Glass, Spencer. 1997. The Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish. TFH 3/97.
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1991. Original Descriptions column: Melanotaenia maylandi. FAMA 8/91.
Howe, Jeffrey C. 2001. Original Descriptions column: Melanotaenia caerulea Allen 1996. FAMA 10/01.
Hutchings, James F. 1982. Another rainbow on the horizon (Glossolepis incisus). FAMA 1/82.
Korytko, Timothy P. 1997. The Red Rainbowfish. TFH 1/97.
Mayland, Hans J. 2000. Rainbows of Irian Jaya. TFH 3/2000.
Meinken, Hermann & W. Foersch. 1975. Iriatherina werneri, a new atherinid fish from New Guinea. TFH 4/75,
Richter, Jans-Joachim. 1983. Iriatherina werneri, the Featherfin Rainbowfish. TFH 8/83.
Richter, Hans-Joachim. 1985. The Magnificent Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia boesemani. TFH 8/85.
Richter, Hans-Joachim. 1986. The Banded Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia trifasciata. TFH 3/86.
Richter, Hans-Joachim. 1989. A neglected beauty- Chilatherina sentaniensis. TFH 1/89.
Sommer, Wolfgang. 1989. A new look at the Red-Spotted Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia fluviatilis. TFH 5/89.
Tappin, Adrian R. 1993. The original Australian Rainbowfish. FAMA 11/93.
Tappin, Adrian R. 1998. Rainbowfishes. AFM 7/98.
Tavares, Iggy. 2000. Iriatherina werneri, a Featherfin Rainbow. FAMA 11/00.
Tsang, Peter. 1960. Rainbow Fishes. TFH 11/60.
Allen, Gerald R. 1983. Kiunga ballochi, a new genus and species of Rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae) from Papua New Guinea. TFH 10/83.
Elias, Jaroslav & Frantisek Podesky. 2000. The Forked-Tail Rainbowfish, Popondichthys (now Pseudomugil) furcatus. TFH 11/2000.
Elson, Gary. 1998. Adventures with Ol' Blue Eyes. TFH 10/98.
Richter, Hans-Joachim. 1983. Spawning the Popondetta (now Pseudomugil) Rainbowfishes. TFH 12/83.
Richter, Hans-Joachim. 1985. Pseudomugil gertrudae, a Blue-eye from "Down Under". TFH 10/85.
Tappin Adrian R. 1993. The pseudomugilids of Australia. FAMA 5/93.
Terceira, Anthony C. 1988. Pseudomugil mellis. A little known Silverside from Australia. FAMA 10/88.
Zurio, Georg. 1988. Small but fine. Popondetta (now Pseudomugil) species from New Guinea. Today's Aquarium. 1/88.
Baensch, Hans. 1972. The Celebes Rainbow Fish in Aquaria. Aquarium Digest International 1(2):1972
Richter, H.J. 1974. The Celebes Rainbowfish, Telmatherina ladigesi. TFH 12/74.