Silver Hatchetfish: Species Profile & Care Guide

The Silver Hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicla), with its uniquely shaped body and metallic shine, is an aquatic marvel found mostly in South America’s freshwaters. This lively yet peaceful schooling fish is quite popular among aquarists worldwide for its amazing display when it swims in large groups, making a splendid spectacle for the viewer.

silver hatchetfish

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Scientific Classification

The Silver Hatchetfish belongs to the scientific classification system, which helps to identify and categorize living species. Below are the details of its classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Gasteropelecidae
  • Genus: Gasteropelecus
  • Species: Sternicla


The Silver Hatchetfish is admired for its unique appearance. Its key characteristics are identified by its body shape, coloration, size, and several distinctive features that make it stand out from other species. It’s important to understand these aspects of its appearance to comprehend its natural behavior, care requirements, and compatibility with other species.

Body Shape

The Silver Hatchetfish has a unique, highly specialized body shape; it’s remarkably thin and laterally compressed, resembling the blade of a hatchet — hence its name. This shape is significant as it aids in its survival.

It allows silver hatchetfish to swim swiftly just below the water surface and leap out of the water to escape predators or catch flying insects, making them effective surface feeders.


The Silver Hatchetfish is characterized by its unique silvery-white coloration. This silver hue, similar to the reflective properties of a freshly minted coin, often shimmers under aquarium lights, hence the name “Silver Hatchetfish”.

Some individuals may present a slight variation, displaying a faint stripe along their body. This metallic sheen not only serves an aesthetic purpose, providing a captivating view for aquarists, but also an adaptive function, enabling the fish to blend in with their watery surroundings in the wild, effectively camouflaging them from predators.


The Silver Hatchetfish is a petite species, generally reaching an adult size of just 2.5 to 3 inches. Despite this small stature, they require ample space to swim and jump, as they are known for their active behavior.

This small size makes them perfect for communal tanks, provided their specific needs are met. Keep their size in mind when planning tank set up and choosing tankmates, to ensure a harmonious environment.

Distinctive Features

The Silver Hatchetfish has several unique physical features that set it apart from other fish species. Indeed, the most notable is its peculiar body shape resembling an old-fashioned hatchet – hence the name. Its slim, flattened body allows it to glide just below the water’s surface effortlessly.

Another striking feature is its pair of oversized, upward-looking eyes, which help it spot food and predators. It has large pectoral fins, augmenting its hatchet-like shape, and acting like wings that propel the fish above the water when threatened.

Natural Habitat

The natural habitat of the Silver Hatchetfish is critical in understanding their unique traits and requirements. It paints a picture of their lifestyle, environment and feeding habits in the wild. From their preferred water conditions to their geographical distribution and the significance of these environments.

The fascinating details about Silver Hatchetfish’s natural habitat not only contribute to their behavioral and physical traits but also serve as a guide when replicating similar conditions in a home aquarium setting.

Geographic Distribution

The Silver Hatchetfish is native to the freshwater bodies found in South America. They are predominantly found in the Amazon Basin, including the countries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. In their natural habitats, they frequently inhabit slow-moving or standing bodies of water that offer them plenty of cover options in the form of submerged vegetation, roots, and fallen branches.

Preferred Water Conditions

The Silver Hatchetfish prefers soft, slightly acidic water with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. A water temperature between 23 – 27 degrees Celsius (73 – 81 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal, with a hardness of up to 10 dGH.

They also prefer a dimly-lit environment with dense surface vegetation that mimics their natural habitat in the Amazon river basin. Proper water conditions are crucial for the longevity and overall health of Silver Hatchetfish.


The Silver Hatchetfish resides in tropical freshwater environments, predominantly in South America’s Amazon basin. These habitats range from slow-moving streams to dense, flooded forests. The fish have adapted to these environments by being excellent jumpers, allowing them to catch low flying insects.

Indeed, the surface environment is of great importance as their predominant food source comes from above water. The biological adaptations to these conditions are significant, allowing them to evade predators and exploit a unique feeding niche, which is essential knowledge when considering their care in captivity.


The diet of the Silver Hatchetfish hinges primarily on small aquatic organisms. In the wild, they feed predominantly on insects and larvae, which they catch by quickly leaping out of the water. While in captivity, their diet must be a careful balance of floating prepared foods and live or frozen treats to mimic their natural feeding habits.

Preparation and selection of suitable foods, the frequency of feeding, and the necessity of a varied diet are all essential aspects of maintaining the health and longevity of your Silver Hatchetfish.

Natural Diet in the Wild

In the wild, Silver Hatchetfish are primarily insectivores. They have been specially adapted to jump out of the water to catch low-flying insects, making them an excellent natural form of pest control. Moreover, they occasionally feed on tiny crustaceans and worms.

It’s also worth noting that their strong upward-pointing mouths are perfectly designed for their surface-feeding habits. Understanding their natural diet allows for the provision of appropriate captive feed to keep them healthy.

Suitable Foods in Captivity

Silver Hatchetfish aren’t picky eaters, but they thrive on a varied diet. High-quality flakes, brine shrimp, or dried bloodworms form a good base for their diet. However, to replicate their natural food intake, it’s recommended to supplement these with fresh or frozen foods like krill, daphnia and tubifex worms.

Keep in mind that since they are surface feeders, foods should float on the water surface. Providing them with a balanced diet not only boosts their health and vitality but also enhances their unique silver coloration.

Feeding Frequency

In the wild, Silver Hatchetfish are opportunistic eaters who feed primarily at dusk and dawn. However, in captivity, their diet needs to be carefully monitored to ensure optimal health. Feeding them twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening—is common practice.

It’s important to provide just enough food that they can consume within 2-3 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to obstructions and other health problems. Regular feeding not only keeps these aquarium fish healthy, but also helps to maintain their bright coloration and vitality.


The Silver Hatchetfish is an intriguing species with behavioral characteristics that captivate aquarists worldwide. Their activity patterns lean towards the diurnal side.

They are schooling fish, implying that they’re inclined to swim in groups and exhibit complex group dynamics. The interaction with other species falls on the affable side considering their peaceful demeanor.

Activity Patterns: Diurnal vs. Nocturnal

The Silver Hatchetfish is a predominantly nocturnal species. This means that it is most active during nighttime hours when it ventures out in search of food. During daylight hours, these fish tend to hide away in sheltered areas, demonstrating a lowered level of activity.

It is crucial that aquarium lighting mirrors their natural nocturnal routine as much as possible for optimal health. Understanding their activity patterns can help improve their care and create an environment that best suits their behavior.

Schooling Behavior: Group Dynamics

Silver Hatchetfish are known for their schooling behavior, preferring to swim in large groups. This collective movement provides not just a spectacular view for aquarists but also comfort and safety for the fish themselves. In the wild, schooling offers a strategy for evading predators, making them less likely to target individual fish.

In a captive setting, it’s essential to replicate this social aspect of their natural behavior. Having a minimum of six Silver Hatchetfish in a tank, preferably more, helps to reduce stress levels, promoting overall well-being and health.

Interaction with Other Species: Friend or Foe?

Silver Hatchetfish are generally peaceful and non-aggressive, making them great additions to a community fish tank. They typically avoid confrontation and prefer to swim in their upper tank zones. However, be mindful of adding larger, predatory fish into the tank as they might perceive the hatchetfish as food due to their small size.

On the other hand, Silver Hatchetfish coexist well with similar-sized or smaller, peaceful species. As they are schooling fish, they thrive better in groups, providing an interesting dynamic to observe as a hobbyist.


Breeding Silver Hatchetfish can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. As a tropical freshwater species, they require specific conditions and behaviors for successful reproduction. Their spawning process is unique, with eggs often being attached to floating plants.

Understanding these aspects is crucial, from setting the right conditions to nurturing fry. This section sheds light on aspects like breeding conditions, mating behavior, egg laying and incubation, and fry care.

Breeding Conditions

Silver Hatchetfish breeding in captivity is a complex process, and setting the right conditions is crucial. The tank should replicate the calm, shaded waters of their natural habitat. Dimmed lighting, soft water with a pH of around 6, and a drop in temperature can simulate the rainy season, triggering a breeding response.

Providing plenty of floating plants can offer a familiar and secure environment for the fish to lay their eggs. Start by isolating the healthiest pair in a separate breeding tank, gradually adjusting conditions to induce spawning.

Mating Behavior

In the world of Silver Hatchetfish, the courtship process is subtle yet distinct. Not much is known about their precise mating rituals due to their shy and elusive nature. However, a general shift in their behavior becomes noticeable when they are ready to breed.

Make sure to keep a vigilant eye on your fish, as females will often be pursued by males who perform quick, darting movements to attract attention. The spawning itself will usually occur in the shadows of plants or decorations available in the tank.

Egg Laying and Incubation

The Silver Hatchetfish is an egg scatterer, laying and fertilizing their eggs amongst plants. This process is usually done at night, and after which the adults will normally ignore the eggs. In a controlled aquarium setting, you may opt to remove fertilized eggs and place them in a separate tank.

The eggs generally hatch in about 24 to 36 hours. It is crucial to remember that incubation requires correct water temperature and pH levels. Moreover, a gentle aeration in the breeding tank can be beneficial to mimic their natural habitat, facilitating healthy development.

Care of Fry

Silver Hatchetfish fry begin their journey as tiny specks barely visible to the naked eye. They hatch from the eggs in about 3-4 days, after which they live off their egg sac for another 3-4 days. During this early stage, the fry require a diet rich in protein to promote growth and development.

Live foods like brine shrimp nauplii or infusoria work best. It’s also crucial to maintain optimal water conditions to ensure the fry’s survival, including a stable temperature and clean water to prevent any bacterial or fungal infections.

Tank Requirements

The care and well-being of Silver Hatchetfish largely depend on their environment. Therefore, the—tank size, water parameters, filtration and aeration needs, and types of substrates and decorations—are crucial factors to consider.

In a home aquarium, these conditions must closely replicate the Silver Hatchetfish’s natural habitat. Ensuring suitable tank requirements will not only help your fish thrive but will also enhance their longevity and overall health. 

Minimum Tank Size

When it comes to housing a Silver Hatchetfish, having an appropriate amount of space is crucial to their well-being. These fish are active swimmers that require ample room to move about. A minimum tank of size of 20 gallons is typically recommended for a small group. However, for every additional fish, it’s advisable to increase the tank size by about 5 gallons.

Thus, larger groups demand larger aquariums. Offering sufficient space not only encourages their natural behavior but also contributes to maintaining their health. Remember, cramped conditions can lead to stress and disease.

Water Parameters

Silver Hatchetfish thrive in tropical freshwater conditions. The ideal water temperature for them is between 72° and 81°F (22° to 27°C). They prefer a pH range of 6.0 – 7.5, making slightly acidic to neutral water conditions optimal. The hardness of the water should be from 8 to 15 dGH.

Furthermore, the hatchetfish prefer low to moderate currents, replicating their native river environments. Make sure to regularly test the water parameters to ensure a healthy environment for your fish.

Filtration and Aeration Needs

Proper filtration is key to a healthy environment for your Silver Hatchetfish. A good-quality internal or external filter is ideal for maintaining water cleanliness and oxygen levels. The filter should generate moderate water flow as these fish prefer calm waters.

Effective aeration is crucial, so using an air pump can increase the oxygen concentration. It’s recommended to choose a filter and air pump suited to the size of your aquarium, taking into consideration the number of fish. 

Substrate and Decoration Preferences

The substrate for a Silver Hatchetfish tank should ideally consist of dark sand or fine gravel, as this closely mimics their natural Amazon River habitat. When it comes to decoration, these fish enjoy dense vegetation and floating plants, which provide areas for them to hide and mimic their natural canopy cover.

However, ensure some open space is left at the top of the tank as Silver Hatchetfish are known jumpers. Smooth rocks and driftwood can also be included for added aesthetic appeal.

Tank Mates

The Silver Hatchetfish, being a peaceful and sociable species, can coexist harmoniously with a variety of tank mates. However, some specific aquatic species are more compatible than others. The sustainability of a peaceful aquarium relies heavily on choosing species that will not prey on or bully the Silver Hatchetfish.

Compatible Species: Peaceful companions

As an aquarium owner, it’s crucial for you to know the species that can peacefully cohabit with Silver Hatchetfish. These fish are peaceful by nature, and they do well with other non-aggressive, non-predatory species that wouldn’t bully them or compete for the top water layer – their preferred dwelling zone.

Suitable tank mates include tetras, corydoras catfish, rasboras and peaceful loach species. These companions will ensure your Silver Hatchetfish can live, feed, and interact without stress, contributing to their overall well-being and longevity in the tank environment.

Species to Avoid: Potential adversaries

While Silver Hatchetfish are generally peaceful, there are certain species you should avoid housing them with. Predatory fish such as larger cichlids and catfish can pose a threat to them due to their small size.

Likewise, boisterous or territorial fish like tiger barbs can stress them due to their constant movement and aggression. It’s also important to avoid species that require significantly different water conditions, as this could create an environment unsuitable for your Silver Hatchetfish.

Common Health Issues

Like any other aquatic species, Silver Hatchetfish are susceptible to certain health issues. Maintaining suitable water conditions and a balanced diet can significantly enhance the overall well-being of these fish. However, they can still experience illnesses such as Ich, fungal infections, or internal parasites.

Regular observation for any changes or unusual behavior plays a critical role in early disease detection and treatment. Take note that swift remediation can increase the survival chances to a considerable degree.

Susceptibility to Diseases: Known Health Risks

Like other aquatic species, Silver Hatchetfish are prone to certain health issues. While normally hardy, they can be susceptible to typical fish diseases such as Ichthyophthirius (also known as Ich), fin rot, and other parasitic infections.

Ich is a common disease that presents itself as white spots all over the fish body. Fin rot, on the other hand, is a bacterial disease that deteriorates the fish’s fins. Poor water quality, stress, and unhealthy diet can increase their susceptibility to these diseases. Regular monitoring and proper care can significantly reduce these health risks.

Prevention: Keeping them Healthy

Maintaining good health in Silver Hatchetfish is crucial to prevent diseases. Regular tank cleaning, water parameter checks, a varied diet, and avoidance of overcrowded conditions can all aid in disease prevention. Don’t introduce new fish without quarantine and acclimatization.

Ensure that their diet contains plenty of vitamins and minerals to bolster their immune system. A stress-free environment, contributed by stable water conditions and compatibly peaceful tank mates, also plays a vital role in their health and longevity.

Treatment: Solutions and Remedies

Silver Hatchetfish can encounter health issues like Ich and Fin Rot. When such problems arise, immediate steps to reduce stress help. Firstly, ensure well-maintained water parameters. Over the counter medications like copper sulfate for Ich or an antibacterial for Fin Rot can be effective. But always follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult with a fish health professional.

Additionally, move any sick fish to a quarantine tank to stem the spread of the disease. Be careful as Silver Hatchetfish, with their delicate skin, can be sensitive to treatments.

Care Tips

Caring for Silver Hatchetfish entails a well-regulated aquarium environment. With their tropical origin, they thrive in warm water with temperatures between 72-81°F (22-27°C), PH between 6.0 – 7.5 and a recommended water hardness level under 8 DH.

As schooling fish, they experience less stress in groups of at least six. With their upper-level feeding habit, it’s crucial to secure your aquarium, as they’ve been known to train themselves to jump for food. Provide a varied diet of small floating foods, such as flakes or pellets, supplemented with regular servings of live and frozen fares like blood worms.

Maintenance Routine

Maintaining your Silver Hatchetfish involves regular feeding with a balanced diet of flake foods, small insects, and occasional small live foods to mimic their natural diet. Tank cleanliness is imperative; thus, perform water changes every one to two weeks, ensuring a variety of parameters like pH, temperature, and hardness are stable.

Checking for diseases such as ich and fin rot should be part of your routine, treating immediately if spotted. Regular pruning of live plants ensures a healthy environment for your Silver Hatchetfish.

Handling and Acclimatization

Handling and acclimatization are essential aspects of Silver Hatchetfish care. These nocturnal fish often experience stress during transportation or change from one environment to another. However, effectively managing this transition can improve their lifespan and overall health.

It’s essential to adjust the new tank conditions slowly to match those of their previous environment, especially the temperature and pH level. Remember to handle them gently and with hygiene-oriented procedures. Isolation of any new fish before introducing them to the tank is a vital process, reducing risks of potential disease spread.

Special Needs or Considerations

The Silver Hatchetfish has certain distinctive requirements that differentiate them from most home aquarium dwellers. Predominantly, these fish require a well-covered aquarium due to their characteristic capability to leap high when alarmed.

They need a dimly lit ambiance and plenty of hiding spots, which can be catered to through floating plants and driftwood. Another significant demand of Silver Hatchetfish is the need for a precise diet – chiefly carnivorous. The water temperature should be between 23°C to 28°C with a pH range of 6.0 – 7.0, while maintaining low nitrates and avoiding dramatic shifts in water parameters.

Lifespan and Longevity

When adequately taken care of, a Silver Hatchetfish’s lifespan can range from five to ten years. Their longevity is largely dependent on the quality of care and environment provided.

Key factors impacting their lifespan include appropriate food, clear and well-filtered water, sufficient space, and a stress-free environment. Therefore, as an aquarist, you’ll need to ensure these conditions are met to ensure a long, healthy life for your Silver Hatchetfish.

Conservation Status

When it comes to the topic of conservation, understanding the status of a specific species plays a vital role. Conservation status helps in assessing the survival probability of a species in the wild.

It’s a structure built by wildlife researchers and environmentalists to classify various species based on the level of threat they are facing. The classification system ranges from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Extinct’.

Current Conservation Status

In terms of conservation status, the Silver Hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicla) is considered to be of “Least Concern” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

This designation implies that they are widely distributed and abundant in their natural habitats. Marked by relatively stable population counts, they aren’t currently perceived as being at imminent risk of extinction.

Threats in the Wild

When it comes to the Silver Hatchetfish, it’s worth noting that they, like many fish species, face a variety of threats in their natural environment. These challenges mainly involve changes in water conditions such as temperature swings and pollution.

Overfishing is another concern as these unique fish are popular in the exotic pet market. Deforestation leading to habitat loss further intensifies their plight. Efforts are needed to mitigate these threats and protect the sustainability of Silver Hatchetfish populations in their native habitats.

Fun Facts

  1. Silver Hatchetfish get their name from their distinct body shape, resembling a hatchet.
  2. They are extremely active swimmers and are known to ‘fly’ out of the water to escape predators.
  3. They have exceptionally large pectoral muscles, which they use to propel themselves out of the water.
  4. Despite their small size, they have a unique hunting method. They can jump out of the water to catch small insects.
  5. Their curved belly acts like a mirror, reflecting the water surface. This makes it hard for predators below to spot them.

Looking after a Silver Hatchetfish may demand a certain level of expertise and commitment. But the joy and enthusiasm they bring to your aquatic life undoubtedly makes it worthwhile.

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