Conservation Station

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As animal lovers, it is a priority at The Wet Spot to keep close tabs on the natural wellbeing of the many fish species we receive, breed, and share with our clientele. Whether we’re checking to make sure prolific species aren’t being overfished, or if endangered species need another shot through captive breeding programs, we’ve found the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List to be instrumental in our efforts. Formed in 1964, this database is the most comprehensive catalogue of the conservation status of described animals, plants, and fungi in the world. So much more than a list, data compiled by the IUCN has been used to inform conservation practices and policy change internationally. Using algorithms to assess literature and submitted data, the IUCN classifies individual species on a “Barometer of Life” ranging from “Least Concern” to “Extinct in the Wild”, and lists any actions needed to preserve the species in question. Surveying work on this scale is a massive undertaking, and the IUCN has provided a model whereby large agencies, regional governments, scientists, and private citizens may come together to contribute to the greater body knowledge about life on Earth. To recognize the great work this agency has done for global biodiversity, this week we’ll look at 3 African species from similar regions with 3 different conservation statuses. These include Alestopetersius brichardi, Alestopetersius smykalai, and Neolebias axelrodi.

Thought to be exclusively from the middle Congo, A. brichardi is a vibrant characin that prefers flowing streams and rivers. A prolific species in the region, they are listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. Known more commonly as “Red Congo Tetras”, they reach a maximum of 3 inches, and males exhibit gleaming silver bodies with bright red, extended fins edged in black. Females are more plain in coloration with light colored bodies and a dark horizontal stripe down their sides. In captivity they do best in heavily planted aquaria designed to resemble a flowing stream with plenty of swimming space. Substrate should be soft and scattered with variably-sized water-worn rocks, driftwood roots and branches, or any other hiding places. A lively, schooling species, they are a joy to observe in large, mixed-gender groups, and should be kept with at least 8 conspecifics. Ideal for a well-researched community aquaria, they cohabitate well with other Congo Tetra species, similarly-sized Cyprinids, Dwarf Cichlids, Loaches, and peaceful Catfish. Opportunistic omnivorous foragers in the wild, they enjoy regular feedings of live and frozen invertebrates, fresh fruit, and high-quality flake or granules with algal content. Sensitive to organic wastes, ⅓ water changes should be performed at least biweekly. Temperatures should be maintained between 70 and 82°F, with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0, and a hardness under 179 ppm.

Another gorgeous Alestid, A. smykalai may bear a common name implying origins in the Congo, but it is restricted to the Niger drainages of southern Nigeria. These “Blue Diamond Congo Tetras” are found inhabiting rainforest streams with lots of cover and riparian vegetation. Due to deforestation in their native range, this species is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, and since there are not many successful captive breeding reports, their availability in the hobby is quite rare. Reaching just over 2 inches in length these Tetras have stunning shimmering, clear/blue bodies with a black caudal spot and elongated, flowing fins. By all accounts, they should be kept in aquaria the same as any Congo Tetra with plenty of open swimming space, vegetation, and flowing stream conditions with water-worn rocks. Another peaceful, schooling species, they should be kept in large conspecific groups, and do well alongside any of the African community species mentioned above. Coloration and general boisterousness are amplified by quality diets including frequent live and frozen meals, and high-quality flake and granules with some vegetal component. Tank waters should be maintained pristine of organic waste with temperatures between 70 to 82°F, a pH between 5.0 and 7.0, and a hardness under 179 ppm.

Another Nigerian species, N. axelrodi is a Distichodontid endemic to the River Azumini near Lagos. Due to habitat loss, this species is listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List, and is so rare, there isn’t much literature available about their true nature. Another difficult species to breed, scientists believe they are egg scatterers, and hobbyists are encouraged to experiment with breeding techniques. A diminutive little characin, they reach about ¾ of an inch and have pointed heads, rigid, sail-like dorsal fins, black pin striping down their sides, and yellow-golden flecks of coloration from their noses down their backs. This species seems to do best in aquaria with dense vegetation including floating plants, dark, soft substrate with scattered rocks and driftwood, and low lighting, Somewhat shy by nature, this species is schooling, and should be kept in a single species tank in large groups. In large aquaria with lots of hiding spaces, however, they may be housed alongside species with similar temperaments. Most likely a micro-predator in the wild, they should be fed mostly small invertebrates, though they will accept high-quality flake and granule foods. Tank waters should be maintained with temperatures of 73 to 79°F, pH around 6.0, and hardness under 267 ppm.
While it’s easy to become discouraged about trends in declining biodiversity these days, there are large entities dedicated to gathering the information we need to enact real change. So far, the IUCN has assessed 98,500 species, and has a target of 160,000 by the end of 2020. To learn more about the IUCN and how to support them, visit