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The Freshwater Barracuda Ctenolucius hujeta certainly does not look like other Characins. Its large scales have a pretty, silvery-blue to golden iridescent coloring, and it has a black spot at the base of the tail. This is a pretty big fish with an elongated, slender body and a long snout and mouth. The upper jaw is slightly longer than the bottom.
The three subspecies of this fish originate from Central and South America. The nominate species, Hujeta Pike Characin or Slant-Nosed Gar C. hujeta hujeta, comes from Venezuela. It can reach lengths of up to 28 inches (70 cm) in the wild, though seldom reaches more that 8 inches (22 cm) in the aquarium. The second subspecies, C. hujeta beani, comes from Panama and Columbia and reaches a length of up to 12 inches (30 cm) in the wild. Its large scales can have a dark scallop, giving it a horizontally-striped or blotchy appearance. The third subspecies, C. hujeta insculptus, comes from Columbia. Other common names these fish are known by include Gar Characin, Hujeta Gar, Rocket Gar, South American Freshwater Needlefish, Silver Gar, Pike Characin, and Silver Pike Characin.
This fish makes a very impressive show specimen. It will be found gracefully hovering along the surface of the tank though it is typically a bit shy. They will tend to be most shy in calmer waters, but even slight water movement will stimulate them. With a current, they become vigorous swimmers and actively predatory. When working in the aquarium, move slowly as this fish is skittish. It can hurt itself and is especially prone to damaging its snout by running into the sides of the tank.
The Gar Characin does best when kept singly, as a pair, or in groups of 4 or more. When young, these fish are found in small groups, but as they age, they will go off more on their own or in pairs. A large tank is needed if you plan to keep multiple fish as they only inhabit the top area of the tank.This fish can also be kept in a community tank, but it is a predator. It will eat anything that can fit in its mouth but is peaceful with fish of like size or larger. The middle and bottom parts of the tank are wide open to other species as the Gar Characin pay no attention to what's below them. In a community setting, make sure tankmates are are not territorial and too big to fit in the Freshwater Barracuda's mouth.
In nature, these fish commonly live in stagnant waters. They have modified flaps on their lips that are used as a breathing apparatus. They are highly adaptive so fairly easy to care for. But even with their ability to adapt to a variety of water conditions, they are still not recommended for beginners. They get rather large and require a good-sized aquarium, and their skittishness can lead to injuries. They can also be difficult to feed. The Gar Characin is best kept by aquarists with some experience.
The Freshwater Barracuda Ctenolucius hujeta was described by Valenciennes in 1850. This fish is found in Central and South America in Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela where it ranges from the Lake Maracaibo of Venezuela to the Rio Magdalena in northern Colombia. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.
There are three subspecies. The nominate species, the Hujeta Pike Characin or Slant-Nosed Gar C. hujeta hujeta, is found in Venezuela and can reach up to 28 inches (70 cm) in length, though it is seldom more that 8 inches (22 cm) in the aquarium. The second subspecies, C. hujeta beani, comes from Panama and Columbia and reaches a length of up to 12 inches (30 cm) in the wild. Its large scales can have a dark scallop, giving it a horizontally-striped or blotchy appearance. The third subspecies, C. hujeta insculptus, comes from Columbia. Other common names these fish are known by include Gar Characin, Hujeta Gar, Rocket Gar, South American Freshwater Needlefish, Silver Gar, Pike Characin, and Silver Pike Characin.
These fish seem to prefer slow-moving, calm waters. They are often found in loose aggregations of 3 to 5 individuals in still pools. During seasonal changes, many of these pools start to dry up, leaving behind small, oxygen-depleted pools. These fish have flaps by their lips that are used as accessory breathing apparatus in oxygen deficient water. These fish usually hunt in small groups in the upper water layer using vegetation for cover. In nature these fish feed on smaller fish and insects.
Scientific Name: Ctenolucius hujeta
Social Grouping: Varies - When young, these fish tend to stay in groups, but as they age, they will pair or become more solitary.
IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed
The Freshwater Barracuda has an elongated, slender body and a forked tail. They have a long snout and mouth with an upper jaw that is slightly longer than the lower. The snout has upperwardly curved "flaps" that form modified lip membranes. These function as accessory breathing apparatuses in oxygen-deficient water. Depending on the subspecies, in the wild, they range in size from about 12 to 28 inches (30 - 70 cm) in length. In the aquarium, however, they usually only grow up to 8 or 10 inches (20 - 22 cm) in length and have a lifespan of 5 to 8 years.
The large scales on this fish take on a bluish or golden iridescence, depending on how the light hits it. This fish has a black spot at the base of the tail. The large scales on the subspecies C. hujeta beani can have a dark scalloping, giving it a horizontally striped or blotchy appearance.
Size of fish - inches: 27.6 inches (70.00 cm) - The largest subspecies, Hujeta Pike Characin or Slant-Nosed Gar C. hujeta hujeta, can reach almost 28 inches in the wild, with the other two subspecies being smaller. However, in the aquarium they seldom reach more than 8 to 10 inches (20 - 22 cm) in length.
Lifespan: 8 years - They have a lifespan of 5 to 8 years.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
Freshwater Barracudas are really not for the inexperienced fish keeper. Although these fish are very adaptable to a variety of water qualities, they require a large tank and have a skittish personality that can easily lead to injury. They are also not the easiest fish to feed commercially-prepared foods, making them a poor choice for beginners.
Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Foods and Feeding
The Freshwater Barracuda is a carnivore. In nature, it is an obligate predator, feeding on other fish and insects. In the aquarium, these fish need to be fed meaty foods, such as fish, worms, insects, insect larvae, and crustaceans. However, they do not need to be fed live fish. Most feeder fish carry a risk of spreading parasites and introducing other diseases to the tank. Feeder fish are only valuable if they have been properly conditioned. If not, they do not offer a high nutritional value. Also, do not feed this fish mammal or avian foods such as beef heart or chicken because the Freshwater Barracude can't metabolize the lipids in these foods, which can lead to fat deposits and organ failure.
When young, these fish can be fed bloodworms, earthworms, and chopped up prawns. Once they are large enough, they can have whole prawns, strips of fish flesh, mussels, and live river shrimp. Feed twice a day, and only what they can consume in under 5 minutes as these fish will gorge themselves if given the opportunity.
Diet Type: Carnivore
Flake Food: Occasionally
Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Most of Diet - If feeding store-purchased feeders, make sure to quarantine them to make sure they do not carry parasites.
Meaty Food: All of Diet
Feeding Frequency: Daily - They do best fed twice a day, but only what they can consume in under 5 minutes as they tend to overeat, gorging themselves.
The Freshwater Barracuda are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems, and regardless of size, all need some maintenance. As with most predatory species, these fish produce a lot of waste, so a highly-efficient filter is needed.
Over time, decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever-changing conditions, water should be replaced on a regular basis, especially if the tank is densely stocked. At least 30 to 50% of the tank water should be replaced weekly. When working in the aquarium, move slowly as this fish is skittish. It can hurt itself and is especially prone to damaging its snout by running into the sides of the tank.
Water Changes: Weekly - These fish produce a lot of waste. Do a 30 to 50% water change every week.
The Freshwater Barracuda only inhabits the upper portions of the aquarium, but it is a good-sized fish. A minimum aquarium of 55 gallons is suggested. Like most larger, predatory-type species, these fish produce a large amount of waste, so a large canister or sump-type filter is a good choice. A secure lid is needed as these fish tend to be great jumpers.
They do well in a tank that is well-planted on the sides and back, leaving a good amount of space for free swimming. They also tend to like a loose cover of floating or overhanging vegetation that creates a dim environment. Any decor that is under them does not matter. Although any substrate is fine, a substrate of sand mixed with a couple handfuls of dried leaves will help to create a blackwater environment. Be sure to change it every few weeks. Long growing plants that are easy to root in the sand make a great addition.
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
Suitable for Nano Tank: No
Substrate Type: Sand - Although any substrate is fine, a substrate of sand mixed with dried leaves helps create a blackwater environment.
Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
Temperature: 72.0 to 77.0° F (22.2 to 25.0° C)
Breeding Temperature: 80.0° F - Breeding temperature between 77 and 82° F (25 - 28° C).
Range ph: 5.0-7.5 - They do fine with a neutral pH.
Hardness Range: 6 - 16 dGH
Water Movement: Weak
Water Region: Top
The Freshwater Barracuda is normally very peaceful when kept in a community tank as long as its tankmates are too big to fit in its mouth. These fish occupy and feed in the upper part of the tank, so it is best to avoid other surface-feeding fish. Also, territorial tankmates should not be housed with this fish. Middle to bottom feeders are the best choice for tankmates. These fish will do well with their own kind and as juveniles will sometimes school together. As they age, they become more solitary but will still school at times. They are best kept singly, as a pair, or in groups of 4 or more.
Temperament: Peaceful - It will eat anything that can fit into its mouth, but it is peaceful with similar-sized fish.
Same species - conspecifics: Yes - They can be kept singly, as a pair, or in groups of 4 or more.
Peaceful fish (): Monitor
Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
Aggressive (): Threat
Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive - They will eat crustaceans if they fit in their mouths.
Sex: Sexual differences
Mature females are usually larger and have more rounded bodies than males. The males have a larger anal fin. The outside fin rays on the male's anal fin are shorter, and the middle rays are the longest. The male's anal fin has a frayed edge. The female's anal fin is triangular and the outer fin rays are longer with straight edges.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Freshwater Barracuda is difficult to breed. Though little information is available, some aquarists report that spawning can occur with pairs or in groups with extra males, with a temperature between 77 and 82° F (25 - 28° C), and with the larvae hatching at 81° F (27° C). Courting usually starts with the males chasing each other then swimming parallel. They then display with extended fins and turn in circles, biting. The males will also chase the females initially with a back and forth of dorsal courtship and quick parallel swimming just beneath the water.
Once breeding starts, it is done on the surface. The male and female both lift the back third of their bodies out of the water with a strong tail swing. Then with much of the female's body out of the water and the male underneath the female, the eggs and sperm are released. Spawning initially occurs every 3 to 4 minutes and then the time lapse between increases to every 6 to 8 minutes.
Spawning lasts for around 3 hours with over 1000 eggs being laid. A large female can lay between 2000 and 3000 eggs. Eggs will hatch in about 20 hours and fry are free-swimming in 60 hours. The free-swimming fry can be fed rotifers, Cyclops, or Artemia nauplii. They grow quickly and should be fed generously 3 times a day. Otherwise, they are cannibalistic and will eat each other very quickly. See Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins for a general description of breeding characins, and see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.
Ease of Breeding: Difficult
Freshwater Barracuda are prone to develop ick if kept in colder temperatures. But in general, they 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 introduce disease. 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 as not to upset the balance.
A good thing about the Freshwater Barracuda is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if dealt with 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 Freshwater Barracuda the proper environment and a well-balanced diet. The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. Stressed fish are more likely to acquire disease.
As with most fish, they are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. Aquarists should read up on 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 Freshwater Barracuda is not as common as many other characins, but they can occasionally be found at pet stores or online and are moderately-priced.