Body Posi-fish-ity

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Great news aquarists – Popular culture is finally catching up to fish culture! Specifically, the understanding that there isn’t an “ideal” human form is quickly becoming the norm. This is hardly a new notion to fish-lovers like us, as we’ve always appreciated the subtle differences in body form that confer unique functions and adaptations among our fishy friends. Long fish, short fish, wide fish, flatfish, round fish, and all other possible variations have their place in the environment (and in our hearts). In celebration of all body types, we present to thee: Teleogramma brichardiDistichodus sexfaciatus, and Tetraodon lineatus.

A fluviatile species from the lower Congo, T. brichardi is one of just five species in its genus. All Teleogramma have specialized anatomical features that allow them to thrive in fast-flowing rapids. Sporting a cylindrical, elongate form, this almost snake-like Cichlid has a flexible spine that allows them to slither along with the current, and a reduced swimbladder keeps them close to the rocky stream bottoms as the river rushes above. This species reaches up to 5 inches in length and exhibits wide grey-blue heads with big lips, light striping over grey bodies, and sooty black tails. A sexually dimorphic Cichlid, adult females have pink chests and a white edge to the caudal fin. During spawning, which occurs in caves, their colors intensify and really pop! Tanks should be set up to simulate fast-flowing streams with sandy substrate, lots of water-worn rocks along the bottom to form caves and crevices, hardy rhizome plants attached to hardscape, and a strong filtration system to keep waters pristine and moving. Territorial by nature, this species should be housed in long tanks with lots of space and broken-up territories along the bottom. Not particularly tolerant of one another, this species is best maintained in single pairs, and may be housed alongside medium-to-large-sized African river community species like Congo Tetras, Barbs, Bushfish, and similarly-sized (but not benthic) river Cichlids. As carnivorous micropredators, they consume live foods from the substrate and should be fed mostly frozen invertebrates (especially if breeding), and high-quality flake and pellets. Tank waters must be scrupulously clean with temperatures between 68°F and 78°F, a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, and a hardness of 125 to 178 ppm.

Streamlined for stream-life, D. sexfasciatus exhibits a fusiform body shape with a torpedo-pointed snout that cuts through flowing open waters. An active swimming species, the “Six-banded Distichodus” is high-backed with a diamond shape – this rhomboid shape varies quite a bit among the 25 valid species of its genus depending on the degree of water flow in their geographic range. As their common name suggests, this species has six black vertical bands down their sides with beauteous burnt-umber colored fins. This species can grow up to 30 inches in the wild but generally only reaches about 16-24 inches in captivity. This makes it suitable only for large tanks with some flow, lots of open swimming space, and tight-fitting lids. Otherwise, tanks should have areas of cover along the bottom from furnishings like driftwood, rocks, and shale piles. All but the toughest-leaved aquatic vegetation is likely to be eaten, so choose your plants with care! Omnivorous foragers leaning toward the herbivorous side, this species should be fed a highly vegetal diet with items like peas, blanched spinach, spirulina, and flake foods, along with regular live and frozen treats. Somewhat aggressive and boisterous as adults, juveniles may be kept in small schools, though larger individuals should be maintained in sparse groups with lots of space. A tad nippy, they may be kept with those who are not easily spooked or cowed like Bichirs, Loracariids, large Characins and Cyprinids, and sturdy Cichlids. Tremendously tolerant, tanks should be kept with a pH between 6.0 to 8.0, a hardness between 178 and 356 ppm, and temperatures of 72°F to 79°F.

Because sometimes a single form just won’t do, T. lineatus takes a page out of Veruca Salt’s book and balloons when necessary. When at rest, these “Fahaka Puffers” are wide and vertically flattened with small, rounded fins. These characteristics are often observed in slow-swimming species that rest on the bottom and hide in crevices. But if predators get the wrong idea, Puffers are able to inflate their elastic stomachs with air, increasing their size by 2 or 3 times! Such a display is often more than enough warning of their inherent toxicity if eaten. Reaching up to 17 inches in the wild, these large-eyed “adorkable” Puffers have thin golden striping over dark bodies with yellow bellies and fins. Distributed throughout the lakes and rivers of Northern Africa, they do best in large aquaria with lots of open swimming space, a thick layer of sandy substrate, scattered areas of cover from rocks and driftwood, and hardy, tough-leaved plants. Due to their opportunistic predatory nature, these rarely take kindly to tankmates and are best kept alone (though personable enough to merit it). Using their beaks as intended, these Puffers eat mollusks, fish, and other meaty foods available and should be fed as such. Otherwise, they will consume live and frozen invertebrates including krill, worms, and even pellets. Tank waters are best maintained with temperatures between 75°F and 82°F, a pH between 6.0 to 8.0, and a hardness up to 267 ppm.
A wonderful reminder that every body is beautiful, peek into your tanks when societal pressures get out of hand. Soon enough, we’ll all be as body-positive as our aquarium pets!