Giant Chinese bitterling, Acheilognathus macropterus


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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.