African Tiger Fish
Tiger Fish, Tiger Characin, Ndweshi, African TigerfishFamily: Alestiidae Hydrocynus vittatusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Ken Childs
The African Tiger Fish is a characin, but it certainly is not your typical aquarium tetra!
The African Tiger Fish Hydrocynus vittatus is an unusual looking characin. This fish is best described by its scientific name. The term hydrocynus means "water dog" and the term vittatus means "striped", so what you have is a "striped waterdog". It is a big ferocious fish with rows of large iridescent silvery scales, sometimes with a golden cast. Other common names for it are Tiger Fish, Tiger Characin, Ndweshi, African Tigerfish, and Tiervis.
This Tiger Characin is definitely a specialty fish. It grows to an impressive size, reaching up to about 3-1/2 feet (105 cm) in length and weighing over 60 pounds, though it usually won't get much longer than about 30 inches (75 cm) in the aquarium. One look at those teeth lets you know that the African Tiger Fish is a voracious predator. They are related to the Piranha, but get much larger. They can use those huge teeth to chop large fish into bite sized pieces.
The size alone limits who will able to keep one as they would need an aquarium of 650 gallons and upwards of a 1000 gallons or more. This fish is best suited for a public aquarium or for the most experienced fish keepers with the space and financial ability to care for these giants. The African Tigerfish is not actually hard to care for as far as getting the water right, nor getting them to eat. They just get real big and eat a lot.
Due to their large size, Tiger Fish are usually kept in species aquariums. More than one can be kept if the aquarium is large enough. They will school with their own species as well as fish of similar temperament. However there isn’t much that can be kept with them as any tank mates really need to be appreciably larger species. This isn't so much a problem with them being aggressive, rather its their having a very hearty appetite. As they age and become very large, these African Characins do sometimes become less tolerant of their tankmates and then have to be housed singly.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Size of fish - inches: 41.3 inches (105.00 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 634 gal (2,400 L)
- Temperament: Large Aggressive - Predatory
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
- Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced
- My Aquarium - Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
The African Tiger Fish Hydrocynus vittatus was described by Castelnau in 1861. They are found throughout Africa, from Egypt to South Africa. They are most common in the Senegal, Nile, Omo, and Congo Rivers and in Lake Tanganyika. The species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). It has a wide distribution and is generally abundant and common. Other common names they are known by are Tiger Fish, Tiger Characin, Ndweshi, African Tigerfish, and Tiervis.
These tiger fish inhabit mainly larger rivers and lakes. All but the largest specimens will swim in schools with other similar sized fish. roving about preying on food. They are fierce and voracious predators, feeding on whatever is available. This is mostly fish, but they will also consume some detritus and plant matter. This large species also serves as a food fish for many natives.
- Scientific Name: Hydrocynus vittatus
- Social Grouping: Varies - They swim in schools with other similar sized fish, though very large specimens are loners.
- IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern - This species has a wide distribution. Although it is locally depleted by heavy fishing pressure, it is generally common and abundant, and is therefore listed as Least Concern. It has also been assessed regionally as Least Concern for central, eastern, north eastern, southern and western Africa.
The African Tiger Fish can get up to get up to 41.3 inches (105 cm) in length and weigh up to 62 pounds (28 kg) in the wild. In captivity it is unlikely they will achieve a size of much more than about 30 inches (75 cm) with a life span of between 10-15 years. It has an elongated body that tapers on both ends and has a forked caudal fin. its head is large and it teeths, 8 per jaw, are always visible and are very large. The teeth are conical in shape and are sharp. They are used for grasping and chopping prey rather than for tearing it. These teeth are occasionally replaced throughout its life.
Its body color is a silver blue overall. It has rows of large iridescent silvery scales, sometimes with a golden cast. There can also be some red and yellow on the fins. Males and females are similar in form and color, but males are generally smaller and more full bodied.
- Size of fish - inches: 41.3 inches (105.00 cm) - These fish get up to 3 1/2 feet (105 cm) and weigh up to 62 pounds (28 kg) in the wild, but it is unlikely they will reach much more than about 30 inches (75cm) in the aquarium.
- Lifespan: 15 years - They have a lifespan of between 10 - 15 years in the captivity.
African Tiger Fish are large predacious fish and should only be cared for in commercial aquariums or by the most experienced fish keepers with the space and financial ability to care for these giants. It is actually not real hard to care for, as far as getting the water right and getting them to eat. The size alone limits who will able to keep one as they would need an aquarium upwards of a 1000 gallons.
This being said this species is unsuited for aquarium life. When small these fish will seem like an interesting and great addition to your tank. But they grow to an alarming size and have amazing bursts of spend that can make basic tank maintenance a potential danger!
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced - This fish grows to 3.5 feet in length and would require a tank upwards of 1000 gallons making it certainly not suitable for the average hobbyist.
These fish are primarily carnivores. In the wild they are a major predator and the bulk of their diet is fish, however they will also consume some detritus and plant matter so are actually omnivorous. In the aquarium they can be fed meaty foods like whole fishes and shrimps. When initially introduced into the aquarium they will readily eat live foods, but once they have acclimated they can be offered frozen foods as well a pellet diet. Small juveniles will take flake but will soon need to be moved to pellets. Trout pellets work well. It has been reported that they will ignore prepared foods however, when there is live food available.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Flake Food: Occasionally
- Tablet Pellet: Yes - These fish may not accept processed foods at first but will usually adapt to them with time.
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day
Tiger Fish are big messy fish that need ample filtration. Water changes of about 30 - 50% are needed every other week, depending on the bio load, to keep this fish very happy and healthy.
- Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Do a 30 - 50% water change every other week.
The African Tiger Fish is an extremely large predatory fish. Because of their large adult size, and their propensity for schooling with other similar sized fish, they need a very large aquarium. Juveniles can be kept in a smaller tank, but they grow quickly and will soon need a much larger tank. If you have a 1000+ gallon tank at you disposal, they are easy to keep. They will need ample filtration and a moderate water flow.
They will occupy in all parts of the aquarium so need a spacious open area for swimming. But they also need a decor of plants, roots, and driftwood to provide them with some hiding places. They need clean water, so good filtration is important.
- Minimum Tank Size: 634 gal (2,400 L) - Juveniles can be kept in bit smaller tank, but they grow fast and will soon need at least 634 gallons with 1000 gallons or more being best.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Any
- Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
- Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
- Range ph: 6.5-8.0 -
- Hardness Range: 5 - 25 dGH
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all parts of the aquarium.
Their nature is not necessarily aggressive, but they do have a big appetite so there isn’t much that can survive in a tank with them. This fish will do best kept a species tank, or with other similar sized non-territorial species. They are more intolerable of tank mates than other Tigerfish species however, so do be cautious in selecting tank mates. Very large fish may become less tolerant of co-inhabitants.
- Venomous: No
- Temperament: Large Aggressive - Predatory - This fish is more predatory than aggressive however tankmates would need to be significantly greater in size.
- Compatible with:
- Same species - conspecifics: Yes - Will swim in schools, though very large specimens may become loners.
- Peaceful fish (): Threat - Tankmates should be similarly sized or larger to avoid becoming a meal.
- Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
- Plants: Safe
Males are larger and fuller than the females.
The African Tiger Fish has not been bred in the aquarium, though it has been successfully artificially bred in captivity as a fishery specimen. Presumably it would be very difficult to impossible to do in an aquarium as it would require a very large tank. For a description of breeding characin fish, see Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins.
In nature these fish spawn for just a very few days each year during the rainy season, usually in December and January. They migrate up river and into small streams. The female lays a large number of eggs in very shallow water among submerged vegetation. The eggs hatch and the young live there until flood waters force them out into the larger waterways.
- Ease of Breeding: Difficult
Like most giant fish the biggest concern with the African Tiger Fish is lack of space and food. If you can meet these needs not much goes wrong with these giants. These fish are hardy and disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. That being said there is no guarantee that you won't have to deal with health problems or disease. Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance. Because these fish eat live food, disease can be passed to them from their foods. Make sure to quarantine live food before feeding.
A good thing about the African Tiger Fish is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs can be noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease.
As with most fish the African Tiger Fish are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The African Tiger Fish or Tiger Characin are occasionally available but usually come with a very high price tag. Even though they aren’t considered rare, like many fish that get huge, they are expensive when they are small because they are small for such a short period of time.
The African Tiger Fish is primarily a game fish and food fish. They can't be shipped into Florida, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has restrictions placed upon the transport or handling of certain species, this being one.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- Dr. Rüdiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 4 , Mergus Verlag, 2004
- Joseph S. Nelson, Fishes of the World, Wiley, 2006.
- Hydrocynus vittatus (Castelnau, 1861) Tiger fish, Fishbase.org
- Hydrocynus vittatus, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species