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Acestrorhynchus falcatus (BLOCH, 1794)

Red-tailed Freshwater Barracuda

SynonymsTop ↑

Salmo falcatus Bloch, 1794; Salmo pulverulentus Linnaeus, 1758; Xiphorhamphus ferox Günther, 1863


falcatus: from the Latin falcatus, meaning ‘sickle-shaped’, and presumably in reference to the shape of the caudal-fin.


Order: Characiformes Family: Acestrorhynchidae


The type locality is given simply as ‘Suriname’ but this species is widely distributed throughout northern drainages of the Amazon in Peru and Brazil plus the Río Orinoco in Venezuela and various coastal river basins in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.


Inhabits major river channels and tributaries and said to show a preference for clear and black water environments as opposed to turbid ‘white’ waters.

It occurs sympatrically with literally hundreds of other species across its range but as an example some of those inhabiting the rio Purus, a tributary of the Amazon, include Leporinus friderici, Aphyocharax alburnus, Hemigrammus ocellifer, Hyphessobrycon bentosi, Leptagoniates pi, Moenkhausia oligolepis, Prionobrama filigera, Tetragonopterus argenteus, Triportheus angulatus, Thoracocharax stellatus, Corydoras armatus, C. trilineatus, Hemiodontichthys acipenserinus, Lamontichthys filamentosus, Otocinclus vittatus, Rineloricaria lanceolata, Bujurquina sp. cf. syspilus, Geophagus altifrons and Colomesus asellus.

Maximum Standard Length

250 – 275 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Acestrorhynchids are typically very active and extremely fast swimmers so minimum base dimensions in the region of 250 ∗ 90 cm are required for long-term care.

Even juveniles need a significant amount of room since they tend to act skittishly in small tanks and can easily injure themselves by swimming into the glass.


This species is a near-exclusive inhabitant of open water and an excess of cover can actually stress it meaning, substrate aside, the majority of the tank should be décor-free with plenty of open space.

Should you wish to create a natural effect use a sandy substrate, perhaps with a few handfuls of leaf litter and some driftwood branches or roots.

Plants which can grow in sand can also be added as can those which prefer to be attached to solid surfaces such as Microsorum pteropusTaxiphyllum barbieri or Anubias spp. while lighting can simply be tailored to the plants being used.

If using a deeper tank you could even fill it to 50-70% of capacity and add emergent branches or plants which can look very effective.

A tightly-fitting cover should be used in all cases since acestrorhynchids tend to be powerful jumpers.

Efficient filtration is a must when keeping predatory species due to the amount of waste produced so install one or more external canister filters and/or a sump system, organising the return in such a way that some surface movement is created.

Weekly water changes of 30-50% should be considered mandatory as this species can be sensitive to organic pollutants and swings in water chemistry, and for this reason it must never be introduced to biologically immature set-ups.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 22 – 28 °C

pH: 6.0 – 7.5

Hardness: 18 – 215 ppm


An obligate piscivore capable of consuming quite large prey in relation to its body size.

Newly-imported specimens may refuse to accept anything but live fishes although most can be weaned onto dead alternatives once they recognise them as edible, and some even learn to accept dried foods.

Like the vast majority of predatory fishes this species should not be fed mammalian or avian meat such as beef heart or chicken.

Some of the lipids contained in these cannot be properly metabolised by the fish and may cause excess fat deposits and even organ degeneration.

Similarly there is no benefit in the use of ‘feeder’ fish such as livebearers or small goldfish which carry with them the risk of parasite or disease introduction and at any rate tend not have a high nutritional value unless properly conditioned beforehand.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Relatively peaceful with anything too large to swallow and can be maintained in a community provided tankmates are chosen with care.

Aggressively territorial or very competitive species should be avoided with the best choices being placid fishes such as Geophagus spp., Acarichthys heckelii, medium-sized doradid or loricariid catfishes and characids from genera like CtenoluciusMylossoma or Myloplus.

This species is not normally aggressive towards conspecifics with juveniles in particular exhibiting a marked schooling instinct.

Older individuals tend to be more solitary but still group together from time-to-time, and it’s best maintained in numbers of four or more.

One important point to note is that acestrorhynchids are cannibalistic given the opportunity so if buying a group or adding to an existing school try to ensure that all individuals are of comparable size.

Sexual Dimorphism

Sexually mature females tend to grow a little larger and be deeper-bodied than males.


Apparently courtship and even spawning have been observed in aquaria but no fry raised.

Reports suggest that spawning occurs in midwater with the female remaining stationary while the male swims around her in a ‘figure-of-eight’ pattern.

The eggs are scattered in large numbers and parental care is non-existent.

NotesTop ↑

The vernacular name of this fish is derived from its appearance and behaviour, rather than a genetic association with the marine barracuda, and it’s also sometimes referred to as ‘pike characin’ or ‘spotted cachorro’ with local vernacular names including ‘Grand dent-chien’ (French Guiana), ‘ Cachorrinho’ or ‘Ueua’ (Brazil).

Although most species of Acestrorhynchus appear superficially similar to one another most exhibit distinguishable external characters which may be used to separate them.

In the case of A. falcatus the most useful of these is the size and shape of the black humeral spot, i.e., the dark marking located just behind the gill cover, which in this species is uniquely reminiscent of a vertically elongate, inverted tear drop measuring at least 25% of body depth.

In other species with a prominent humeral spot (A. abbreviatus, A. altus, A. lacustris and A. pantaneiro) the marking is rounded and markedly smaller.

The latter four species comprise the putative A. lacustris group of closely-related species within the genus, with recent morphological (Toledo-Piza, 2007) and molecular (Pretti et al., 2009) phylogenetic studies unable to recover the precise relationships existing both within the group and with A. falcatus, which together appear to form a clade with the latter species basal and sister to the others.

Members of the A. lacustris group often cannot be separated on the basis of morphology, making accurate identification difficult, and they are also very similar genetically leading Pretti et al. (2009) to conclude that a detailed revision of the group containing material collected across their distribution range is necessary in order to better understand the systematics involved.

Menezes’ (1969) diagnosed A. falcatus using the following combination of characters: 2 spinous and 9 soft dorsal-fin rays; 5 spinous and 21-26 soft anal-fin rays; 15-18 pectoral-fin rays; 8 ventral-fin rays; 80-96 pored lateral-line scales; 18-24 scale rows between lateral line and dorsal-fin origin; 10-14 scale rows between lateral line and anal-fin origin; 20-26 rakers on lower part of first gill arch; a small black blotch at the caudal-fin base.

The remainder of the genus is currently composed as follows:

A. microlepis group: A. britskii, A. grandoculis, A. microlepis, A. minimus
A. nasutus group: A. falcirostris, A. nasutus, A. isalineae, possibly A. maculipinnis
Not assignable to any group: A. heterolepis

The family Acestrorhynchidae appears most closely-related to the Cynodontidae which contains the genera Cynodon, Hydrolycus and Rhaphiodon.


  1. dos Anjos, H. D. B., J. Zuanon,T. M. P. Braga and K. N. S. Sousa, 2008 - Check List 4(2): 198-213
    Fish, upper Purus River, state of Acre, Brazil.
  2. Géry, J., 1977 - T.F.H. Publications, Inc.: 1-672
    Characoids of the World.
  3. López-Fernández, H. and K. O. Winemiller, 2003 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 14(3): 193-208
    Morphological variation in Acestrorhynchus microlepis and A. falcatus (Characiformes: Acestrorhynchidae), reassessment of A. apurensis and distribution of Acestrorhynchus in Venezuela.
  4. Menezes, N. A., 1969 - Arquivos de Zoologia (São Paulo) 18(1-2): 1-150
    Systematics and evolution of the tribe Acestrorhynchini (Pisces, Characidae).
  5. Prettia, V. Q., D. Calcagnottoa, M. Toledo-Piza and L. F. de Almeida-Toledo, 2009 - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52(2): 312–320
    Phylogeny of the Neotropical genus Acestrorhynchus (Ostariophysi: Characiformes) based on nuclear and mitochondrial gene sequences and morphology: A total evidence approach.
  6. Toledo-Piza, M., 2007 - Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 151(4): 691–757
    Phylogenetic relationships among Acestrorhynchus species (Ostariophysi: Characiformes: Acestrorhynchidae).

3 Responses to “Acestrorhynchus falcatus – Red-tailed Freshwater Barracuda (Salmo falcatus, Salmo pulverulentus)”

  • MorayMaster

    The “yellow tail” version of this species tends to grow slightly larger than the redtail, and can be more aggressive. This species tends to attack silvery tankmate fish as they resemble natural prey.

  • Is the yellow-tailed form confirmed as A. falcatus? A. microlepis has a yellow caudal, for example, but I’ve heard of the trait in A. falcatus before.

  • MorayMaster

    Either falcirostris or falcatus. Will have to double check with our importers.

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