Name: Nannostomus beckfordi
Origin: Amazon Basin
My group of Nannostomus beckfordi pencilfish are attractive, lively, and doing really well in a soft water South American community theme tank. The tank is well planted, and natural light is provided by skylights and windows. Pencilfish are characins, like tetras, without an adipose fin. The golden pencilfish, the common name of the fish I have, is a lively and peaceful aquarium resident. I had read they would hide by day, but mine don’t. They are out all the time, and mostly occupy the upper third of the aquarium. They are fairly easy to care for, like a lot of tetras - “just add water” – and eat all the foods I serve from the water’s surface, from mid-tank, or from the sandy bottom. They are proven to be good tankmates to Discus.
A few months ago, I arranged to buy nine individuals of Nannostomus beckfordi from a “Display Only” tank at the LFS, where they were kept with Discus in a biotope-style, blackwater set-up. We bagged them carefully in two bags, and went straight home. They had looked in excellent condition in the store tank, but upon arriving home I could see the trip had taken its toll. They were pale, in some cases the red line was gone, and there were some slightly shredded fins and other signs of stress. Floating them in the bag for the usual long water drip acclimation (a procedure I invented that has never failed me) did not agree with them either, and the addition of a drop of Melafix only increased their agitation, or so it seemed.
I could see they were not handling the bag thing well at all - they kept hanging around at the top, and were a grayish color all over - so I did something I hadn't done with fish in years, which was to add them to the tank, and not wait. After all, the GH and pH of the LFS water and my tank water were just about the same. When they hit the tank water, they still seemed a little nervous and I noticed some of their fins were damaged, so I treated the tank with Melafix, at the suggested dose. I figured this would settle everything down and provide a nice transition. I wish to emphasize that I have used Melafix, with other fish, before and it is a good product. Meanwhile, they were hanging at the water’s surface, nervous and pale. Then, on the third day before dosing, quite coincidentally, I read a long document which said that many hobbyists had reported problems using Melafix with pencilfish. The theory stated it had something to do with oxygen depletion, and bettas were affected, as well. To be on the safe side, I discontinued the Melafix, did an immediate 25% water change to remove it, and added 1 tablespoon of dissolved aquarium salt. I used this small amount of salt on purpose. I'm not familiar with dosing salt, and only learned of its therapeutic value through a friend, so I decided to be very conservative, reasoning that a little salt wouldn't hurt anything. I can't say for sure whether it was the removal of the Melafix, or the addition of a tiny amount of salt but whatever it was, a dramatic change occurred almost at once. The pencilfish stopped hanging around at the surface, and began exhibiting some lively and more natural behavior, such as “schooling,” which they had not done to this point, and I recognized spawning behavior between three of them. I think it was two males after the same female, taking turns. It isn’t likely that the water change on its own was the cause of this new activity, as the water had just been changed in anticipation of the pencilfishes’ arrival.
I did another water change, with a final dose of salt, a couple of days later and after that everything was fine. Their colors were fully restored, and spawning activity is constant to this day, usually conducted in pairs, but three at a time is not unusual. These exciting events had a happy ending. Golden pencilfish are a lovely and welcome addition to a community tank.
I have 5 of these little fellas in my tank. I've noticed that they don't seem to school as much as it seems they would. Mine just hover in a group. I've got 2 males and 3 females, and the males are constantly fighting each other. They rub against each other's sides, which, when I first got them, I thought might have been some sort of courting ritual as I had no idea what it could be. But when I got them they had just come from the shop, and their colors weren't exactly...at their peak. Now the two males have lines of deep red above the dark line that goes across their bodies, and some red on their fins. Overall, these fish are absolutely beautiful in a tank. Absolutely worth the jokes of people who hear the name 'pencilfish' and start to make tasteless jokes about it. The only bad thing I see about these fish is their small mouths. Before I feed them flake food, I have to crush it to be small enough to fit their mouths.
I love these little guys! They are my hands down favorite community tank residents. As for the comment about their small mouths, all I can say is it's pretty funny watching them work over a large flake. They'll nibble, then spit it out, then nibble until it eventually all goes down. It's like watching a hummingbird in action as they dart and hover around their food, frantically beating their tiny fins.
Just bought 4 of these little fellas for a tetra community tank and a cockatoo dwarf cichlid. To my great surprise, they turned out to be amazing little algae eaters! They are extremely peaceful and spend most of their time together picking off diatoms and those dreadful hair algae off my tall fake plants. I didn't even know they would be so helpful when I bought them. They actually resolved my algae eater problem as I was reluctant to get otos for this tank because of the Apisto. They also add colors around the top of the tank since my tetras occupy the middle and bottom. I strongly recommend these fish but do get at least 4 or 5 because they are a little nervous.
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