The third family of South American fishes that I became aware of in the course of my experiments as an aquarist were the Characids. They happen to be very different from the Suckermouths (Loricariidae) and Corydoras (Callichthyidae). The latter are members of the order Siluriformes (the catfishes) and are restricted to the Neotropics (Central and South America). The family Characidae belongs to the order Characiformes. The most famous members of the order are the Piranhas (family Serrasalmidae). Like the Loricariidae and Callichthyidae, the Characids are Neotropical.

Characid species in the aquarium trade are known as Tetras. These are small freshwater fish that live in schools. Not all Tetras are members of the Characidae; one example being the Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus), a species originating in Central Africa, belonging to the family Alestidae. There are a large number of genera within the Characids. Once upon a time, even the Piranhas were considered part of the family. But no longer. Apart from the aquarium trade, these fish are exploited for food. I tried raising the following species in my tanks:

  • Bloodfin Tetra (Aphyocharax anisitsi), native to the Parana River
  • Serpae Tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques), native to the Amazon River
  • Black Neon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi), native to the Paraguay River
  • Red Eye Tetra (Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae), native to the  Sao Francisco, Parana, Paraguay and Uruguay basins in eastern South America

These are among the best species for those who are new to the hobby of raising fish. They are attractive, hardy and low on maintenance. Beginners can raise them without difficulty, feeding them a variety of food – flakes, pellets, brine shrimp or blood worms. They love vegetation, swimming through the plants or hiding behind them. Schools of Tetras (especially members of the genus Paracheirodon – the Cardinal Tetra or Paracheirodon axelrodi, the Neon Tetra or Paracheirodon innesi, and Green Neon Tetra or Paracheirodon simulans) making their way through a well-maintained aquarium are a sight for sore eyes.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on an illustration from the book ‘Expédition dans les parties centrales de l’Amérique du Sud, de Rio de Janeiro à Lima et de Lima au Para’, documenting the species discovered by an expedition under the command of the French naturalist, Francis de Laporte de Castelnau (1810-1880). The explorers charted the territory along the watershed between the Amazon and the La Plata systems, from Rio de Janeiro in the east to Lima in the west, before heading north to the state of Para on the Atlantic. The species portrayed is Lambari Prata (Tetragonopterus argenteus). It is consumed by locals in Brazil and Argentina.