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