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Choosing a Hatchet Fish

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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The hatchet is the perfect fish for any community tank and highly recommended for beginners. Natives of South America, their unusual appearance and peaceful nature make an interesting addition to the aquarium.

Appearance and Behavior

The fish are named for their physical appearance. A deep downward slope of the body just past the mouth narrows sharply to the tail giving the appearance of a hatchet. They are schooling fish and do best when kept in numbers of five or more. Hatchet fish do not thrive if kept individually. They prefer fast moving water and are often found hanging motionless in the area of the tank with the strongest current. Hatchets are surface feeders; their mouths are directed upward for snatching food that falls on the water. They are very fast swimmers, and will dart about quickly if disturbed or at feeding time. Breeding usually requires specialized tank conditions and diet. The eggs hatch in one day and the fry are often consumed by the parents. Hatchets can grow to 1 to 1 1/2 inches and live 1 to 3 years.

Feeding and Tank Requirements

Hatchet fish prefer live food. Mosquito larvae, bloodworms and fruit flies are preferred. Most fish kept in the home aquarium accept flake or freeze dried foods. Maintain the tank temperature between 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, pH 5.5 to 7.5. A long tank with a few surface plants is preferred. This gives them cover and adequate room for swimming. Provide an area with some fast flowing water like the stream produced by a filter head.

Special Concerns

These fish have been known to jump out of the water to snap at food so provide a good tank cover and keep the water a few inches below the top of the tank. These fish have few special needs and get along well with any of the community fish. Tetras, rainbows, corydoras catfish, gouramis, platys and swordtails are possible tankmates.

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