Pen-cilfish, Mightier than the Sword?

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This week was a hard one to those of us who’ve known no life but one filled with the works of Stan Lee. A real-life superhero to billions of fans, his powers were a brilliant mind and the tenacity to challenge the status quo. As a backer of Marvel in the age-old rivalry with DC, Lee’s superheroes captured my attention as being relatable, balancing power with personality (and they always made me laugh!). Over the course of his 70 year-long career he elevated the Marvel comic book label to greatness with creations like Spider Man, The X-Men, Thor, Black Panther, and The Hulk to name a few…So, inspired by his genius, and in honor of his memory, this week we’ll highlight fish resembling Stan Lee’s favorite weapon- the pencil!- especially the wild ones!

Found in the sluggish tributaries and swampy areas of Peru, Nannostomus mortenthaleri is beautiful, but timid like so many creative types. They do best in slow-water tank setups with dark substrate, dense vegetation including tall and floating plants, driftwood, and dried leaf litter. Filtration should be no stronger than a sponge. Reaching just over 1 inch in length, these “Red Arc Pencilfish” are as red as Daredevil with a bright stripe from nose to tail, black striped lining the red, and a white underbelly. Due to their small size, they aren’t suitable for all community aquaria, but they do just fine alongside diminutive characids, Apistos, and small, peaceful bottom-dwellers. They can, and should be kept in conspecific groups of 10 or more, however males may be aggressive with each other, so tall plants, and broken lines of sight are necessary to keep the peace. Feeding chiefly on small invertebrates and zooplankton in the wild, they can be fed small live and frozen fare like Artemia or brine, with some small dried foods. Waters should be maintained with temperatures between 75 and 82°F, pH on the acidic side from 4.0 to 7.0, and hardness of 18 to 90 ppm.

Hailing from slow regions of the Amazon near Rio Negro in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia, Nannostomus trifasciatus has wide distribution. Preferring similar habitats to the previous Nannostomus, they are often found in blackwater regions, and do best in sluggish waters with lots of plants, diffused light, wood, and leaf litter. Known as “Three Line Pencilfish”, they most resemble Rogue maxing out around 1.5 inches with white coloration and dark black striping for contrast. Peaceful and calm, they are gregarious and should be kept in groups of 10 or more alone or alongside sedate and small characids, and small bottom dwellers. Another micropredator, be sure they are fed regular live and frozen meals with some vegetal flake. Tank waters are best maintained between 70 and 80°F, pH on the acidic end of their range of 4.0 to 7.0, and hardness of 18 to 215 ppm.

Another small pencilfish from Peru, Nannostomus rubrocaudatus is found in sluggish tributaries of the upper Amazon with plentiful aquatic vegetation, submerged woody tangles, and dried leaf litter. They do best in aquascaped settings with wood and lots of plants. Known more commonly as “Purple Pencilfish”, they reach just over an inch in length with the characteristic pointed body, dark black horizontal striping, and a purple “cape” resembling Magneto, but much more docile! Similar to the Red Arcs, they can be kept in calm South American community tanks absent of large, aggressive, or overly boisterous species, or alone in groups of 10 or more, provided they have adequate furnishings. A micropredator in the wild, they are happiest and have the best coloration when fed predominantly small meaty live or frozen bites, and dried foods with some vegetal content. Tank waters are best kept with temperatures of 75 to 82°F, pH between 4.0 and 7.0, and hardness under 90 ppm.

We all strive to do meaningful work, and there is no better role model than Stan Lee. If he had merely given us a rich and entertaining world full of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, dayenu. In the process, however, Lee shaped billions of adolescents into caring, and brave adults who know how to laugh when things get tough. His legacy will continue to inspire, whether you’re tool of choice is a pencil, or pencilfish.