by Chuck Nishihira
I was not sure if these two photos were worth posting here, but since they are of two such rarely seen fish I decided to go ahead. I remember seeing the line drawings of these two species from the Congo in Jacques Gery’s Characoids Of The World which was published in 1977. It was still a relatively new book at the time. I was smitten, especially with the species lootensi. Although illustrated in black and white, the shape of the body and finnage grabbed my attention.
These obscure species in the genus Hemistichodus, which is part of the Distichodinae, and in the subfamily Ichthyborinae are classified as fin-eaters. That means that at least part of their diet comes from eating the fins of other fish. Gery surmised based on their bifid lateral teeth that the species in this genus would capture and feed on insects.
A few years back I was offered a few of both species, and jumped at the chance. Even if I needed to feed them insects, I felt it would be worth it. As there were still no images available of these two species, I was truly surprised when I saw them for the first time. Just like the drawings I saw so many years ago, here was a elegant and uniquely finned fish, but on top of that it was colorful!
I was ecstatic when they did start feeding on mosquito larvae and frozen blood worms. But that happiness turned to concern when they did not always feed with enthusiasm and seemed to be slowly wasting away. I started adding a few feeder fish thinking that they would feed on the fins and after a bit I could remove the feeders to heal. I don’t enjoy keeping fish that eat other fish, so I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea. But I have to admit what happened when I threw in those first feeders was fascinating. They immediately rammed into the feeders sending their scales “flying”. They would dislodge large amounts of scales which they would dart around eating up with so much fervor.
I’m not sure why I did not take better photos before they left my tanks. For such rarities, it would have been nice to have that perfect shot. Still, I think that so few people have seen these fish or will get a chance to see them. So with a little hesitation, I post these photos here.