Care Guide for Hatchetfish – Oddball Schooling Fish With Wings

Care Guide for Hatchetfish – Oddball Schooling Fish with Wings

Most freshwater fish like to hang out in the lower two-thirds of the aquarium, so it can be hard to fill in the upper third with some activity. The hatchetfish is here. The hatchetfish is a top-dwelling nano fish that has an unusual appearance. It can be seen darting about just below the surface of the water. These fish require special care, so let us take a closer look at these fascinating oddities.


What is Hatchetfish?

Freshwater hatchetfishes are distantly related and come from the Gasteropelecidae tribe. They are common in South and Central America. They have a hatchet-shaped body with pectoral fins that extend from the body like bird wings. Their strong pectoral muscles enable the hatchetfish to jump several inches out of the water, allowing them to quickly escape predators.

What types of hatchet fish are available? There are many species that are available at your local fish store, though they may not be in stock. They usually range from 1-2.5 inches (2.5-6 cm) long, so we have listed them roughly in order of smallest to biggest size.

– Pygmy hatchetfish (Carnegiella myersi) – Blackwing hatchetfish (Carnegiella marthae) – Marbled hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata) – Silver hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus levis) – Common hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicla) – Spotted hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus maculatus) – Platinum or spotfin hatchetfish (Thoracocharax stellatus)

Marbled hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata)

Although some species, like the common hatchetfish can be kept in tanks or cages, many hatchetfishes were caught wild. The hatchetfish may have been transported from the wholesaler to the store without proper nutrition, which can make them more vulnerable to diseases. Ask the fish store how long they’ve had the hatchetfish, watch them eat, and observe their behavior before making a purchase.

We recommend that hatchetfish be quarantined, fed high-quality food, and treated with the three quarantine medications. Hatchetfish are prone to ich or white spot disease, which is easily cured with Aquarium Solutions Ich-X. Also, wild-caught fish often have internal parasites like tapeworms, so treat them with Fritz ParaCleanse and then treat them again two weeks later to eliminate any worm eggs that hatched.

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Hatchetfish

Because they live in areas that experience flooding and rainy seasons every year, the pH, GH and other parameters of water can be varied for Hatchetfish. They are tropical animals that thrive in temperatures between 75-80degF (24-27degC). A schooling fish needs to be with at least 6-12 fish from the same species. They feel safer and more comfortable displaying their natural behavior when there are more fish in their school. Cory McElroy was once the CEO of a group that included 30 silver hatchetfish. He would notice a bright flash of light when their scales were reflecting like mirrors as they switched directions.

A school of hatchetfish in a blackwater aquarium

Hatchetfish are not super active, so you can keep them in a 20-gallon aquarium or larger. The tank must have a tight-fitting lid or hood because they will jump out of the narrowest slot they can find. Cover any openings in the tank for the heater, filter or automatic fish feed feeder with craft mesh.

What fish can live with hatchet fish? Avoid keeping hatchetfish with other fish that are aggressive, large enough to eat them, or fast-swimming and able to outcompete them for food. They do best with tank mates that are similar-sized and peaceful, such as tetras and corydoras catfish. South American dwarf cichlids, such as Apistogramma and German blue rams, are fine because they live in the lower half of the tank. Hatchetfish remain up there.

What Does Hatchetfish Eat

One of the main problems that fishkeepers have with hatchetfish, especially as they get bigger, is underfeeding because they really prefer to eat from the water surface and do not like swimming down to get sinking foods. In the wild, they use their small, upward-facing mouths to feed on insects and zooplankton. Therefore, feed tiny foods that float for a long time, and decrease water flow near the surface so the food won’t sink as quickly. Good floating foods include high-quality flakes, floating pellets, freeze-dried foods, and live baby brine shrimp that tend to swim toward the aquarium light.

Platinum hatchetfish (Thoracocharax stellatus)

We hope you will try the incredible hatchetfish and enjoy its unusual appearance and behavior. For more ideas on other surface dwellers to try, check out our article on the 10 Best Top-Dwelling Fish for Your Aquarium.