African Tigerfish (Hydrocynus Vittatus)

African tigerfish - Hydrocynus vittatus

African tigerfish, Hydrocynus vittatus, are popular aquarium fish due to their interesting behavior and coloration. In the wild, these fish inhabit the rocky pools of the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are “Least Concern” and have a stable population, which means that there isn’t any reason to fear them becoming extinct.

They are beautiful freshwater fish that can live up to 15 years in captivity if cared for properly. They’re native to the rivers and streams of West Africa, where they feed on other fish and sometimes even small mammals. They’re normally found in waters that range from 68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (20-35 degrees Celsius), with a pH between 7 and 8, making them one of the most widely adaptable species of freshwater fish on the planet.

Origin and descriptions

Hydrocynus vittatus are also large predatory freshwater fish native to the Niger River in Africa and are among the top predators of this ecosystem. Their name comes from their yellowish-tan coloration with dark vertical stripes along their bodies, similar to those of tigers found on land.

This is a large and aggressive predator, so it needs plenty of space in captivity, both to prevent injury and allow it to exhibit its natural behavior. But provided with proper care, an African tigerfish can make an attractive and interesting addition to an aquarium.

Species profile

African tigerfish - Hydrocynus vittatus

African tigerfish belong to the family Alestidae and are native to Africa. Their scientific name, Hydrocynus vittatus, means tiger fish with a banded pattern in Greek. The species was first described by German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789.

They are also known as African tigerfish, blue tigerfish, or simply tigerfish. They can grow up to 42 inches long and weigh up to 62 pounds. The largest African tigerfish ever caught was over 4 feet long and weighed nearly 100 pounds! Although they are not considered dangerous to humans, their sharp teeth and powerful jaws make them one of Africa’s most feared predators.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the African tigerfish is Hydrocynus vittatus

Synonyms

Tiger Fish, Tiger Characin, Ndweshi, or African Tiger Fish.

Habitat

The African tigerfish can be found in many different types of habitats, making them a very versatile fish. They are highly adaptable and will eat just about anything they can fit into their mouths. African tigerfish do not need a large tank but they should have rocks and caves where they can hide from predators and rest during midday.

The best tank for African tigerfish would be an aquarium with a gravel bottom so that any waste that is produced by these fish can easily be removed by simple water changes.

Size

In their natural habitat, the African tigerfish can grow up to 42 inches (105 cm) in length and weigh around 28 kg (62 pounds). In captivity, they are less likely to achieve a size that big but can grow up to around 30 inches (75 cm).

Tank size

Due to their big size, the minimum tank size recommended for a single African tigerfish is 650 gallons (2,461 liters).

Tank requirements

African tigerfish are able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures and pH levels. They do best in slightly acidic water with a water temperature between 79-86 degrees Fahrenheit. The general hardness of your water will have little effect on them; however, they can’t be kept in soft or distilled water.

They will thrive in any aquarium that provides them with plenty of swimming room, good filtration, a healthy diet, and clean conditions. If you want to keep multiple fish, plan for at least 15 gallons per inch of adult length. Since these fish grow quickly and get quite large (up to 2 feet long), you may need an even larger tank if you don’t plan on frequently upgrading your equipment as it grows out of its current home.

You should also make sure that your filter is powerful enough to handle their enormous appetites and waste production. Because they are so large, African tigerfish must be housed alone unless you have a very large tank.

Tank mates

When choosing tank mates for your African tigerfish, keep in mind that these freshwater giants are aggressive eaters. Due to their large size and temperament, they’re best kept alone, they may even attack fish much larger than themselves. That said, if you must have more than one tigerfish in your aquarium, keep them on opposite sides of a divided tank so they can’t see or smell each other. And because tigers are such powerful swimmers (and jumpers), make sure your aquarium is securely covered with a tight-fitting lid.

Breeding

African tigerfish - Hydrocynus vittatus

The species is sexually mature at about 5 cm SL and will then spawn year-round in their aquarium. A diet containing live foods such as Artemia nauplii or Daphnia magna for a few weeks will help condition them for breeding. The female lays up to 800 eggs on fine-leaved plants (it’s recommended to use a spawning mop), where they are fertilized by the male.

After some days, when they have absorbed their yolk sac, fry becomes free swimming and can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp. They grow very quickly, reaching around 2cm after only 2 months.

It’s important to keep the water quality high during growth, using a large filter and performing frequent water changes. The tigerfish has been known to jump out of tanks with less than 60 cm of water so care should be taken if you plan on keeping it in an open-topped tank without a lid.

Are they aggressive or peaceful?

The African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus) is an aggressive and predatory fish. Due to its aggression towards other fish, it’s recommended that your tigerfish be housed with similarly-sized non-aggressive fish.

African tigerfish care

African tigerfish - Hydrocynus vittatus

African tigerfish do not require much-specialized care, but they’re fairly aggressive feeders, so their tank needs to be well-stocked with live and frozen foods. They prefer meaty foods like worms, crickets, and tadpoles over flakes and pellets. In captivity, these fish are known to eat just about anything they can get in their mouths.

If you plan on keeping more than one African tigerfish together, make sure they’re at least 10 inches long before introducing them into a shared aquarium. Smaller individuals may become dinner for larger fish. These fish have been observed jumping out of tanks, so any lid should be completely secure.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of the African tigerfish is 10-15 years.

Parasites and diseases

African tigerfish are susceptible to internal and external parasites, making it vital that their tanks are maintained properly. Keeping a close eye on your fish can help you detect any problems early and eradicate them before they have time to do serious damage. The most common parasite found in tigerfish is Cryptocaryon irritans, or marine ich.

This disease is spread through direct contact with infected fish and by unsanitary aquarium conditions. Ich manifests as white spots on your fish’s body, fins, or gills; if left untreated, these spots will grow into large patches of dead tissue.

Do they make good pets?

African tigerfish are not fish for beginners, and they make poor candidates for a home aquarium. Not only do they get large (up to five feet), but they also grow quickly, are high-maintenance fish with specific dietary requirements, and can be aggressive toward other species in tanks that are too small.

The demand for these animals as pets has been increasing over recent years—although most of them come from breeders who know little about proper tank management and husbandry techniques.