Some of the planet’s pret­ti­est fish are right un­der our noses. Time to take a fresh look at the fa­mil­iar Rum­mynose te­tra trio.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: Steve baker

As a peren­nial old favourite, Rum­mynose te­tra are some­times over­looked, but these three lit­tle ‘Ru­dolphs’ are well worth a sec­ond glance.

When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong!

The down­side of be­ing a house­hold favourite is that it’s very easy to be­come over­looked. You can hang the most beau­ti­ful paint­ing in your hall­way and you’ll stand and stare at it many times dur­ing the first month. if it’s lucky, there might be ap­pre­cia­tive glances for a few months more be­fore it be­comes part of the scenery. other peo­ple, lay­ing eyes on it for the first time, will be quick to show their en­thu­si­asm, which might even re-ig­nite your love for the paint­ing. even­tu­ally, though, you just get used to hav­ing it around and it no longer gets the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

There are quite a few trop­i­cal favourites i can think of that have fallen foul of the same is­sue as that paint­ing. At least they have for me, which al­most makes me feel en­vi­ous of new fish­keep­ers. it would be great to have that ex­cite­ment all over again!

if i’d never seen a Rum­mynose te­tra be­fore, i’d be amazed at the sight of them – they’re a stun­ning, bright, ac­tive fish, and renowned as one of the best shoal­ing fish in the trade. The red nose steals the show, but i’m just as taken by the flagstriped cau­dal fin my­self.

we see Rum­mynose tetras for sale in nearly all aquat­ics shops now and it’s been that way for years on end. They’re re­garded as a trop tank sta­ple and many think they’re well worth the small ex­tra cost over tetras like neons and Glow­lights.

so, Rum­mynose tetras are lovely, shoal­ing com­mu­nity fish, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right?

wrong! There are three de­scribed species that get sold un­der the com­mon name of Rum­mynose te­tra. even if you see the sci­en­tific name dis­played on the pric­ing la­bel, it may be in­cor­rect as iden­ti­fi­ca­tion at the ex­porter stage is rather un­re­li­able, and nearly all im­ports are listed as Hem­i­gram­mus rho­dos­to­mus, rightly or wrongly.

no need to panic, though. it’s not as if any of the Rum­mynose species grows into a 2ft-long, tooth-wield­ing preda­tor, and there’s very lit­tle to tell them apart ei­ther phys­i­cally or be­haviourally.

A very shiny nose

so, what do we need to know about keep­ing these Ru­dolph-like pisces?

The three species in ques­tion are Hem­i­gram­mus rho­dos­to­mus, H. ble­heri and Petitella geor­giae. They all over­lap in Brazil as far as dis­tri­bu­tion is con­cerned, and they’re all happy in very sim­i­lar con­di­tions. in na­ture all three species are found in for­est streams and rivers adorned with fallen tree trunks, branches, twigs and leaves that have got soaked and come to rest over a muddy or sandy

base. Both the Hem­i­gram­mus species are found more of­ten in black­wa­ter con­di­tions, where tan­nins have leached from the sunken flora and stained the wa­ter like tea. Tan­nic and hu­mic acids leach and lower the ph of these for­est streams. Mi­cro fauna is abun­dant in the lay­ers of leaf lit­ter as bac­te­rial and en­zyme ac­tion breaks down the or­ganic flot­sam. Sim­ple life forms such as ro­tifers and cope­pods feed on the bac­te­ria, in turn be­ing eaten by fish and other higher life forms.

These three om­ni­vores have small mouths, so we need to sup­ply small food par­ti­cles for them. They will hap­pily eat dried di­ets such as flake food and mi­cro gran­ules – nearly all Rum­mynose tetras for sale in aquat­ics shops will be tank-bred fish who are used to pre­pared foods. It’s well worth pro­vid­ing a wide va­ri­ety of foods though. Not only will it boost health and vi­tal­ity, but a var­ied diet will also go a long way to keep­ing those red noses bright. Feed­ing reg­u­larly with live or frozen Cy­clops, Daph­nia, black mos­quito lar­vae and small brineshrimp will keep them happy and bright. It will also help if the dry food con­tains carotenoids (a nat­u­ral red colour en­hancer) and don’t for­get their greens ei­ther. Rum­mynoses are un­likely to tear a slice of cu­cum­ber apart, but they’ll nib­ble the edges of let­tuce and blanched spinach leaves – or just make sure their dried diet in­cludes some veg­etable mat­ter. In terms of aquar­ium equip­ment, Rum­mynoses are un­de­mand­ing. They need the right tem­per­a­ture, ba­sic fil­tra­tion, some form of hide or cover, and lit­tle else. Be­ing small, ef­fi­cient fish, these tetras don’t pro­duce much in the way of phys­i­cal waste and they’re quite adapt­able to dif­fer­ent flow rates, so any style of fil­ter will suf­fice as long as it’s suited to the size of your tank. Light­ing isn’t es­sen­tial but it helps us to ad­mire our fish.

Don’t for­get their greens. Rum­mynoses are un­likely to tear a slice of cu­cum­ber apart, but they’ll nib­ble the edges of let­tuce and blanched spinach leaves

Their nat­u­ral habi­tats are dimly lit; the tan­nin-stained wa­ter blocks out the sun quickly if it man­ages to pen­e­trate the for­est canopy, but these tank-raised tetras are quite happy in brighter set-ups as long as there’s plant­ing or some other cover, and they look great against a back­ground of dif­fer­ent greens.

If you’re go­ing with a well-lit tank, it’s ad­vis­able to use a dark sub­strate to con­trast with the fishes’ mark­ings. Pale sub­strates re­flect the light and tend to wash their colours out, so go for black sin­tered glass, gravel, black sand or a dark plant­ing sub­strate.

An­other thing that lim­its the Rum­mynoses’ colour vi­brancy is hard, al­ka­line wa­ter con­di­tions, and these will have an over­all ef­fect on the long-term health and life ex­pectancy of your fish, as well as their colour­ing. The nat­u­ral ph range of all three species spans from neu­tral (ph 7.0) down to an acid­ity of ph 5.5. With most of these fish be­ing tank-bred. they’re more adapt­able, but you should still pro­vide a ph no higher than 7.5.


When it comes to tank­mates, the most dif­fi­cult part for you will be mak­ing de­ci­sions.

The three Rum­mynose species are peace­ful fish. Oc­ca­sion­ally they’ll have dis­putes within their own shoal, but these rarely end with any phys­i­cal dam­age. One lim­it­ing fac­tor, though, is wa­ter val­ues – there may be no ar­gu­ment be­tween a Rum­mynose and a guppy, but they won’t suit the same con­di­tions.

The other thing is sim­ply not to mix them with any fish that may pose a threat to them. Be­ing slen­der tetras, I would avoid most fish of 10cm or more. While there are larger fish with small mouths, like Fes­tivum cich­lids, many big­ger fish will revel in a taste of te­tra.

Of­ten with shoal­ing fish, it’s more ef­fec­tive to fo­cus on one species in an aquar­ium and go for num­bers. A shoal of 20 Rum­mynose tetras will have much more vis­ual im­pact than four groups of five dif­fer­ent fish, and they’ll shoal tighter too.

LEFT: H. rho­dos­to­mus fights down a blood­worm. Right: al­though the red heads of these fish are duller, their stripy tails stand out.

above: Bright shades of red are en­cour­aged by a var­ied diet.

Rum­mynoses are re­garded as top shoalers.

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