Giant Chinese bitterling, Acheilognathus macropterus

If you're looking for a legal bitterling for a large coldwater set-up, check this one out, says Jeremy Gay.

Scientific name: Acheilognathus macropterus.
Common name: Giant Chinese bitterling.
Origin: China and Northern Vietnam, in the Yangtze and Ningpo rivers.
Size: Up to 27cm/10.6”

Diet: Omnivorous, this species will naturally feed on aquatic invertebrates, insect larvae, small insects and anything else that drifts past. In the aquarium a mixture of frozen foods, like brineshrimp and bloodworm, and a good tropical flake food will be fine.
Temperature of 15-25°C/59-77°F and pH 7

Aquarium: Fully grown this fish will need a minimum 180cm/71” tank or indoor pond. A heated outdoor pond would be perfect, though luxuries like heaters don’t come cheap and are normally the preserve of high quality Japanese Koi. As these fish come from a coolwater, riverine environment, decorate the tank with sand and gravel, rocks, pebbles and bogwood. Some hardy coldwater plants like Elodea or Ceratophyllum and some swan mussels will set the scene nicely.

Sexing: Males are larger and much more colourful. Females will show an elongate ovipositor when ready to spawn. Some male bitterling also develop breeding tubercles on their heads.
Identification: Easy to spot as a bitterling, though not so easy to tell from the others, apart from its size. It is less hump-backed than the Hong Kong and more colourful than the Taiwanese.  

Notes: A lesser known bitterling, this species has recently appeared in a few shops across the UK. Males are colourful and good looking, and will make great additions to the larger coolwater aquarium containing the likes of Weather loach and (the legal) North American sunfish.

As most bitterling average 10cm/4” or less you may be surprised to find that this one reaches nearly 30cm/12” and we can only imagine the splendour of a coloured-up adult male in full breeding coloration.

There has been a resurgence of what’s left of the legal species of bitterling, with several nice species in the shops, including the Taiwanese bitterling (Paracheilognathus himantegus) and the Hong Kong bitterling (Rhodeus ocellatus ocellatus).

Note that the European bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus) we used to see often is banned here.

Bitterlings are also well known for their unique breeding behaviour whereby their eggs are laid by the female into a live, freshwater mussel.

Legality: You do not require a licence to keep these in the UK as they are not as coldwater tolerant as the European bitterling and therefore deemed legal.

Availability: It’s been spotted in a few shops throughout 2009 and this fish was photographed at Bretonside Tropicals in Plymouth.
Price: £11.95 each.

This item first appeared in the January 2010 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.

Black-banded sunfish, Enneacanthus chaetodon

The Black-banded sunfish could be a refreshingly different choice for your coldwater aquarium, says Jeremy Gay

Scientific name: Enneacanthus chaetodon
Common name: Black-banded sunfish
Origin: North American Atlantic and Gulf slope drainages from Florida to New Jersey and west to Georgia.
Size: Up to 10cm/4” but usually smaller in the aquarium
Diet: Frozen bloodworm, black mosquito larvae, Daphnia and brineshrimp are readily taken. May also accept flakes or micro pellets. Matt Clarke has kept this fish and his were fond of small earthworms and live bloodworm.
Water: Unusually this species inhabits a cold, yet soft and acidic habitat. Natural temperatures range from 4-22°C/39-72°F, with pH from 6.5-7.5. This is a true coldwater fish that should not be exposed long term to high temperatures.
Notes: If looking for a totally different coldwater fish this could be just the species for you. It belongs to a family of sunfish that inhabit much of North America and many cousins including the Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) are controlled in the UK as they are considered to be a threat to
native species.

The Black-banded sunfish naturally inhabits vegetated lakes, ponds, quiet sand and mud-bottomed pools and backwaters of creeks and small to medium sized rivers. Its liking for plants will suit its camouflage, and as it doesn’t eat plants, a natural looking coldwater planted aquarium with sand and wood would really show these pretty fish off at their best.

Unlike many other coldwater fish they are also a challenge to keep, due mainly to the dislike of any foods that aren’t live, so they should only be attempted by experienced fish keepers.

Aquarium: A 90cm/36” minimum, to easily hold a group of five or six. Remember to keep the aquarium in a cool place, or have plans for cooling in place, come the summertime.
The males are larger with longer fins. The females become fuller when ripe with eggs. They breed by building a nest and protecting it from predators. We have not heard of anyone breeding them in the UK.
There are three Enneacanthus species, E.chaetodon, the Black-banded sunfish, E. gloriosus, the Blue- spotted sunfish and E. obesus, the Banded sunfish. Of the three, the Black-banded shows the most prominent black, vertical barring whereas the others may lose the bars altogether, depending on mood. E. gloriosus and obesus have more rounded dorsal, and caudal fins.

Availability: Rarely available from specialist stores. Choose large, quarantined specimens over small, wafer thin juveniles as they are much more hardy.
Legal position: One of the few North American fishes that can be kept legally in the UK without a licence.
£5 for juveniles, though expect to pay £10-15 for adults.

This item was first published in the December 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.