Puntioplites falcifer

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Matt Clarke looks at a rarely seen cyprinid that has recently surfaced in imports from India for the first time.

Scientific name: Puntioplites falcifer Smith, 1929

Origin: Found in the Mekong Basin, in Thailand and surrounding countries.

Size: About 40cm/15" so a few inches bigger than a fully-grown Tinfoil barb.

Diet: According to Rainboth's Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong, P. falcifer feeds on plants and insects.

Water: Not known. Neutral or slightly acidic water should be fine.

Aquarium: This is a large, active species that occurs in large slow moving rivers and dams and needs to be kept in very spacious quarters. A small group of four really deserve a minimum of at least 180 x 60 x 60cm/6' x 2' x 2' when they're fully grown. Like most large barbs, these are likely to eat plants, so furnish the tank with river-worn cobbles and boulders instead. Should mix well with most other chunky cyprinids.

Notes: The Puntioplites genus contains three other species which range in size from 30-50cm/12-20". Only one of them, P. waandersi, has been seen on sale before in the UK.

Identification: These fish were imported as P. falcifer, but while these specimens share some characteristics, such as the serrated anal and dorsal spines, closer inspection suggested to me that they were actually proctozysron. In P. falcifer the last spine of the dorsal fin is so long that it can reach the caudal fin, the anal, pelvics and dorsal are also normally orange. P. proctozysron has darker greyish fins, 17-22 serrae on the dorsal spine (this one has 20, while falcifer usually has 28-36) and a lateral line that is decurved and extends to the middle of the caudal peduncle, as it does on these fish. However, I am reliably informed by those who live in the area and collect these fish that these are actually juvenile falcifer. Juveniles have a smaller dorsal than adults, which has fewer serrae and their fins are relatively colourless. Other species of Puntioplites include, bulu and waandersi, but both of these lack serrae on the spinous anal fin rays, so they're relatively easy to tell apart when you know what to look for. P. waandersi is one of several cyprinids incorrectly sold under the common name of Tinfoil barb.

Availability: These fish were imported by Wildwoods in Middlesex during January 2006 and are believed to be on the of the UK's first imports of this species. They're not especially pretty, but they do look rather unusual in a graceful sort of way.

Price: Expect to pay about £10-15 for one of these.