Headstander Aquarium Fish
Not only will this fish look down on you, it will also look down on all of the other fish, as well! It will look down on its own aquarium decorations! Heck, this fish looks down on everything! However, this fish isn't a snob! This fish isn't stuck up! This fish just spends most of its life "standing" on its head looking down on the rest of the world! It's the perfect, somewhat peaceful, inverted conversation piece for your community aquarium: the Headstander!
Over my years of being a freshwater fish hobbyist, I have earned a distinct reputation. While my wife thinks that reputation is that I'm crazy, pet stores know me as the guy who likes the weird, rare and odd fish. While I rarely ever buy fish from anywhere other than a reputable pet store, I do occasionally wander through the fish department at our local wall to wall discount mart, where my reputation is also well known. On one particular trip a few years ago, the pet department employee informed me that she had something weird that would be right up my alley. Inside the tank she directed me to was a school of fish that were "standing" on their heads! My first reaction was "What is wrong with them?!" That was when she told me, "Nothing! That's what they do!" Hence my introduction to the oddity called the headstander!
The name "headstander" actually refers to a family of fish. These fish come by their name honestly. The headstanders get their name from their unusual idle swimming position. When idle, the headstanders will remain at a 45 degree angle with their tails up and their heads pointed down! In fact, many headstanders become so accustomed to this position, that they remain in this inverted state most of the time!
In the freshwater fish hobby, there are actually four different headstanders that are popular among hobbyists: the high-backed headstander, the striped headstander, the spotted headstander and the leporinus. Since a future full length article is planned for the leporinus, this article will focus on the other three popular headstanders.
Upon closer investigation, you will notice another oddity about the headstanders: at the end of their pointed snout, their mouth is upturned. While there is a lot of speculation as to why the headstanders' mouths appear this way, it is believed to be a result of years of adapting to their natural habitats. In the wild, the headstanders feed on algae that grows on the undersides of rocky ledges on near vertical slopes.
The headstanders are characins native to the Orinoco River and Amazon River basins in Guyana, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and other areas of South America. In these fast moving waters, the headstanders are found along rocky banks covered with lots of algae. These conditions should be reflected in the headstanders' home aquarium for the fish to remain happy and healthy.
The headstanders' aquarium should have a fine gravel or sand substrate. The tank should also be decorated with rockwork that provides plenty of vertical crevices. Other tank décor can include wood and plant roots that will provide shelter for the headstander. You can even include live plants in the headstanders' aquarium, if you make sure to include plenty of vegetable matter in the headstanders' diet. If you don't, the headstanders will proceed to eat the live plants in their tank.
It is often suggested that you increase the lighting in the headstanders' aquarium to encourage algae growth. The only drawback to this is the fact that many headstanders are somewhat shy, especially when they are first introduced into a new tank. The only solution to curing the headstanders' shyness, other than a lot of patience, is to subdue the tank's lighting and provide plenty of shade. This will keep algae from growing, but at least you will be able to view your headstanders on a more frequent basis.
The water in the headstanders' aquarium will need a pH between 5.8 and 7.5. The water temperature will need to be between 72 to 81 degrees. Since the headstanders are often sensitive to poor water conditions, a good water filtration system is a must. A strong current will also need to be created for the headstander to be happy. This strong current can often be provided by a good power filter. The headstanders are also notorious jumpers, especially when frightened, so their aquarium will need to be tightly covered.
The headstander will need at least a 30 gallon aquarium to call home. At first, the headstanders aren't large fish. Most pet stores sell headstanders around an inch to 2 inches in length. (Or is that height, since they are "standing" on their heads?!) However, once the headstander grows into adulthood, it will reach between 5 to 7 inches in length.
Most freshwater fish hobbyists include the headstanders in their community aquariums because the fish is supposedly peaceful. While the headstander isn't exactly aggressive, it isn't exactly peaceful either. Most headstanders are notorious fin nippers. If a fellow tank mate has long flowing fins, odds are those fins will get a nip or two after the lights go out! Ideal tank mates for headstanders can include silver dollars, severums, gouramis, mollies, swordtails, barbs, kribs, certain catfish, corys, red finned cigar sharks, bala sharks, iridescent sharks, plecos, tetras, hatchet fish, knifes, arowanas, certain eels and most loaches. Just make sure the headstanders are housed with non-aggressive fish, and fish that won't "hog" all of the food. Due to the headstander's chosen swimming position and oddly shaped mouth, this fish has a hard time competing for food.
Headstanders reserve most of their belligerent attitude for themselves! When headstanders are young, they will almost always get along peacefully with each other. However, once the headstanders mature, they will often become belligerent toward each other. This behavior can be curtailed in one of two ways. The easiest way to keep headstanders from fighting amongst themselves is to keep only one headstander per tank. The other, more attractive solution is to keep at least 6 to 8 headstanders together. Once the headstanders are grouped together in a school this large, they seem to get along better.
Headstanders are omnivorous characins that are easily fed. Often mid to lower level feeders, headstanders will readily accept all kinds of food like worms, crustaceans, insects, plant matter, algae, flake foods, sinking wafers, bloodworms, lettuce and peas. Perhaps the strangest delicacy that the headstander has been known to devour is baby food! Headstanders actually enjoy the boiled spinach that is sold as baby food!
While much is not known about the headstanders' breeding habits, it is possible to breed these fish in the home aquarium. Perhaps the biggest challenge to even attempting to breed the headstanders is determining the sex of the fish. This is nearly impossible until the headstanders become mature, and even then it may be a little difficult. The only noticeable difference between the two sexes is the adult female headstander will be somewhat larger and plumper than the male.
If you are fortunate enough to find a mating pair of headstanders, the fish will spawn amongst the roots of floating plants in their aquarium. After the female lays her eggs, it is recommended that the parents are removed before they eat the eggs or fry. The headstanders' eggs will be encased in a hard coating. In many instances, the young headstanders will be unable to break through this hard coating. Some hobbyists actually help the young fish along when they notice the fry trying to get out of their egg. By using a needle to break through the hard coating of the egg, the young headstander can be freed. And wouldn't you know it?! The fry swim head down from birth! The newly hatched headstanders can be fed brine shrimp as their first food.
Since headstanders are now commonly bred in fish hatcheries throughout South America and Asia, this fish is usually found year round in most pet stores. In some cases, you may even find headstanders at wall to wall discount marts. As mentioned earlier, there are three types of headstanders that are usually found in pet stores: the striped headstander, the spotted headstander and the high-backed headstander. While the high-backed headstander is often considered the most belligerent of the three, the striped headstander is often considered the most attractive of the three. You may also find the high-backed headstander available under the name marbled headstander. And all of the headstanders may also be found under their scientific name Anostomus.
Most headstanders are rather affordable when they are purchased singularly at anywhere from $4.00 to $8.00 apiece. However, if you choose to keep 6 or more of these fish in one tank, they will make a serious dent in your wallet! But oh what a conversation piece! You can tell all of your friends that you have a fish that's a snob!